The sonata is in three movements:
The first movement opens with a series of ascending fourths in the right hand, followed by a quartet-like echoing of a phrase in different octaves. The second theme, in B major, is based on a descending run followed by an ascending chromatic run. The development is full of sixteenth-note arpeggios in the left hand, and sixteenth-note left-hand scales accompany the start of the recapitulation, but the movement ends quietly.
The second movement is minuet-like; the main section does not resolve to a full cadence, but ends on an E-major chord that feels like the dominant of A minor. The first time, this leads without intermediate modulation to the trio, headed Maggiore, in C; after its return, the coda briefly quotes the C major tune before returning to E minor. Anton Schindler recalled that Beethoven would play the E-minor section furiously, before pausing at length on the E-major chord and giving a calmer account of the Maggiore.
The third movement is in a lively sonata rondo form. On its final return, the main theme is syncopated against triplets.
Notwithstanding its seeming simplicity, this sonata introduces the "Sturm und Drang" character that became so commonly identified with Beethoven. He adds drama both in the contrast between the lyrical passages that follow very active, textured thematic sections. Furthermore, the contrasting dynamics and variation between major and minor, between using the parallel minor and the subdominant of its relative major (E minor to C major). These were new techniques that offer a hint of the innovations that Beethoven brought to end the Classical era and begin the Romantic era.