BEETHOVEN: Cello Sonatas Nos. 1 and 2, Op. 5 / 7 Variations, WoO 46
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Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Works for Cello and Piano, Vol. 1
Born in Bonn in 1770, Ludwig van Beethoven was the eldest son of a singer in the musical establishment of the Archbishop-Elector of Cologne and grandson of the Archbishops former Kapellmeister, whose name he took. The household was not a happy one. Beethovens father became increasingly inadequate both as a singer and as a father and husband, with his wife always ready to draw invidious comparisons between him and his own father. Beethoven, however, was trained as a musician, however erratically, and duly entered the service of the Archbishop, serving as an organist and as a string-player in the archiepiscopal orchestra. He was already winning some distinction in Bonn, when, in 1787, he was first sent to Vienna, to study with Mozart. The illness of his mother forced an early return from this venture and her subsequent death left him with responsibility for his younger brothers, in view of his fathers domestic and professional failures. In 1792 Beethoven was sent once more to Vienna, now to study with Haydn, whom he had met in Bonn.
Beethovens early career in Vienna was helped very considerably by the circumstances of his move there. The Archbishop was a son of the Empress Maria Theresa and there were introductions to leading members of society in the imperial capital. Here Beethoven was able to establish an early position for himself as a pianist of remarkable ability, coupled with a clear genius in the necessarily related arts of improvisation and composition. The onset of deafness at the turn of the century seemed an irony of Fate. It led Beethoven gradually away from a career as a virtuoso performer and into an area of composition where he was able to make remarkable changes and extensions of existing practice. Deafness tended to accentuate his eccentricities and paranoia, which became extreme as time went on. At the same time it allowed him to develop his gifts for counterpoint. He continued to revolutionise forms inherited from his predecessors, notably Haydn and Mozart, expanding these almost to bursting-point, and introducing innovation after innovation as he grew older. He died in 1827, his death the occasion of public mourning in Vienna.
The Bohemian horn player Jan Václav Stich, known professionally by the Italian form of his name, Giovanni Punto, boasted a considerable reputation as a virtuoso. In Paris in 1778 Mozart had written a solo part for him in his Sinfonia Concertante and he had appeared to acclaim in the major capitals of Europe. It was his visit to Vienna in 1800 that elicited from Beethoven his Horn Sonata in F major, Op. 17, committed to paper, it seems, the day before the first performance by Punto and the composer at a concert on 18th April, with Beethoven playing partly from memory and partly from the inspiration of the moment. The work was a success and was immediately repeated, to be played again in early May in Pest, where it seemed that Punto quarrelled with Beethoven, who refused to appear with him at a following provincial engagement. Both appeared again in Vienna on 30th January 1801, however, to play the work at a concert in aid of those wounded at the disastrous battle of Hohenlinden, in a programme that included two Haydn symphonies, directed by their composer. The Horn Sonata has long been appropriated by cellists, to whose repertoire, with relatively few modifications, it makes a useful addition.
The cello opens the sonata with a descending figure more proper to the horn, after which the piano introduces the first subject, which is then passed to the cello. There is a brief transition to the second subject, entrusted to the cello and unexpectedly touching on the distant key of E minor. The material is developed in a central section, before returning, with the necessary adjustments, in recapitulation. There is a brief slow
F minor introduction to the final F major Rondo, in which the cello answers the piano in the principal theme, which provides a framework for intervening episodes.
In 1796 Beethoven had set out on a concert tour, following a route similar to that taken less profitably by Mozart in 1789, passing through Prague, Dresden and Leipzig on the way to Berlin. Court concerts at Potsdam since 1787 had been in the hands of the cellist Jean-Pierre Duport, teacher to the cello-playing Friedrich Wilhelm II, nephew of Frederick the Great. It was presumably with Duport that Beethoven played there his two new cello sonatas, to be rewarded by the King with a golden snuff-box filled with Louis dor. The sonatas were published in 1797 with a dedication to the King.
The first of the pair, the Sonata in F major, Op. 5, No. 1, follows developing practice in allowing both instruments an equal share of the musical material. The first movement starts with a meditative slow introduction of varied intensity. The first theme of the following Allegro is given to the piano, before being taken up by the cello. The second subject passes through new keys before allowing the piano a passage of virtuoso display in a movement of prolific melodic invention. The central development opens with the return of the first theme, in A major and then in
D minor, before other harmonic possibilities are explored. The recapitulation then brings the expected return to the home key and ends with a short Adagio passage, and a quasi-cadenza, marked Presto, before the brilliant conclusion. The cello opens the second of the two movements, closely followed in canonic imitation by the piano. Here again the concertante element prevails, with an infectiously rhythmic B flat minor central episode in which the plucked notes of the cello accompany the piano. Momentary relaxation of mood gives way to a passage of brilliant display before the tonic chord is finally and emphatically established.
Mozarts German opera Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) had first been staged in Vienna in the autumn of 1791 but only in 1801 was it taken into the repertoire of the Court Opera. The duet Bei Männern welche Liebe fühlen (With men who feel love) had proved a show-stopper from the first and here provides the theme for Beethovens 1801 Variations, WoO 46. They include a moving fourth variation in E flat minor and a livelier fifth version, before the sixth Adagio and the cheerful final variation, with its coda initially in C minor, a prelude to the return of the theme.
The Sonata in G minor, Op. 5, No. 2, again has only two movements. An extended Adagio introduction, by turns dramatic and lyrical, breaks off, to be followed by an Allegro in which the two instruments share the opening theme, while the piano introduces the second subject. The development starts in C minor, a key suggested at the opening of the Allegro, and here, as throughout, there is ample chance for display, particularly in the piano-writing, reflecting the composers ability as a performer. The exposition is repeated, as are the development and recapitulation, before the dramatic final section. In the final Rondo the piano presents the main theme, the cello coming into its own with its version of the first episode and then with the main theme. The heart of the movement is in
C major, but the key of G major is finally established in music of varying mood that has allowed both players a chance to show technical brilliance.