Beethoven composed the Violin Sonata in G major, Op. 96, just before a near cessation of serious music composition in 1813. The gradual reduction in output after 1812 may have been related to Beethoven's unsuccessful search for a woman with whom to share his life, which apparently reached its apex in the fall of 1812 with the "Immortal Beloved" crisis. The year 1812, however, saw the completion of the Seventh and Eighth symphonies and the Op. 96 Violin Sonata, as well as an expansion of Beethoven's fame and reputation both at home and abroad. By this time his works appeared on concert programs as frequently as those of Mozart and Haydn.
The Sonata in G major was written for celebrated French violinist Pierre Rode and dedicated to Archduke Rudolph, a patron and student of Beethoven. Rode and the Archduke gave the first public performance of the sonata on December 29, 1812, four years before the work was published in Vienna by Steiner. Sketched in early or mid-1812, the sonata was completed in November, just after Beethoven had returned from visiting his brother in Linz, where he had finished the Eighth Symphony. The Op. 96 sonata features none of the tempestuousness of the "Kreutzer" Sonata, and Sydney Finkelstein has written that "the mood [of Op. 96] is one of gentle lyricism, with but glimpses of the profound depths of experience and conquest of pain that had made possible the achievement of this serenity." The work provides an unexpected close to Beethoven's so-called "middle" period.
From the outset of the first movement it is clear that the symphonic energy of the "Kreutzer" Sonata is nowhere to be found. Beethoven forgoes the slow introduction and the tempo Presto intensity, creating a more contemplative atmosphere. However, we still find an abundance of material, with numerous thematic elements in the exposition, in the middle of which a hint of B flat major anticipates the "flat key" passages in the recapitulation and the E flat major key of the second movement. The falling, sighing segment of the second closing theme dominates the development section, which subtly trills its way into the recapitulation. As in the first movement of the Op. 47 sonata, developmental treatment of the first theme occurs only in the extended coda. The hymn-like harmonic movement of the opening theme creates a sense of repose in the second movement. Marked Adagio espressivo, the sonata-form structure lacks a development section, a typical attribute of slow-movement sonata form. Beethoven indicated there be no break between the Adagio and the ensuing Scherzo. Beethoven cast the Scherzo in G minor, followed by a Trio in E flat major. The Scherzo section, with its detached melody and accompaniment, ends in such a way that the transition to G major in the coda is almost imperceptible. The only surprise is that the movement ends in the major, not the minor. Pastoral qualities permeate the finale, a set of variations on a simple, eight-measure theme. The variations proceed without interruption, at one point changing from 2/4 to 6/8 meter for a slow lyrical segment that pushes toward E flat major and a literal statement of the theme before moving on to the next variation. A G minor variation that resembles the first theme of the first movement precedes a return to the finale theme on the tonic key. Beethoven closes with a witty, Adagio-Presto coda.