BEETHOVEN: Cello Sonatas Nos. 4 and 5, Op. 102
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Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Works for Cello and Piano, Vol. 3
Born in Bonn in 1770, Ludwig van Beethoven was theeldest son of a singer in the musical establishment ofthe Archbishop-Elector of Cologne and grandson of theArchbishop's former Kapellmeister, whose name hetook. The household was not a happy one. Beethoven'sfather became increasingly inadequate both as a singerand as a father and husband, with his wife always readyto draw invidious comparisons between him and hisown father. Beethoven, however, was trained as amusician, however erratically, and duly entered theservice of the Archbishop, serving as an organist and asa string-player in the archiepiscopal orchestra. He wasalready winning some distinction in Bonn, when, in1787, he was first sent to Vienna, to study with Mozart.
The illness of his mother forced an early return fromthis venture and her subsequent death left him withresponsibility for his younger brothers, in view of hisfather's domestic and professional failures. In 1792Beethoven was sent once more to Vienna, now to studywith Haydn, whom he had met in Bonn.
Beethoven's early career in Vienna was helpedvery considerably by the circumstances of his movethere. The Archbishop was a son of the Empress MariaTheresa and there were introductions to leadingmembers of society in the imperial capital. HereBeethoven was able to establish an early position forhimself as a pianist of remarkable ability, coupled witha clear genius in the necessarily related arts ofimprovisation and composition. The onset of deafnessat the turn of the century seemed an irony of Fate. It ledBeethoven gradually away from a career as a virtuosoperformer and into an area of composition where hewas able to make remarkable changes and extensions ofexisting practice. Deafness tended to accentuate hiseccentricities and paranoia, which became extreme astime went on. At the same time it allowed him todevelop his gifts for counterpoint. He continued torevolutionise forms inherited from his predecessors,notably Haydn and Mozart, expanding these almost tobursting-point, and introducing innovation afterinnovation as he grew older. He died in 1827, his deaththe occasion of public mourning in Vienna.
Beethoven's first two cello sonatas were written onthe occasion of his visit in 1796 to the Prussian court atPotsdam. He played them there with the cellist Jean-Pierre Duport, teacher of the cello-playing KingFriedrich Wilhelm II, nephew of Frederick the Great.
The sonatas were published in 1797 as Opus 5 with adedication to the King. The same period gave rise totwo sets of variations for cello and piano, one on atheme from Handel's Judas Maccabaeus and the otheron a theme from Mozart's opera of 1791, DieZauberflote. These were published in Vienna in 1797and 1798 respectively. The Handel variations werededicated to Princess Lichnowsky. The cello offers anaccompaniment to the theme and the piano continuesalone with the first variation. The second has tripletfiguration in the piano part, duly proceeding tosemiquavers in the third. The fourth variation is in Gminor, returning to the major in the dialogue of thefifth. The quaver figuration of the sixth variation givesway to cello triplet figuration in the seventh, followedby an eighth version in G minor, providing scales forboth players. The interrupted progress of the followingvariation leads to a tenth version marked Allegro andallowing the cello the original melody. Custom isfollowed in an elaborately ornamented Adagio, leadingto a final 3/8 Allegro.
The Duet for viola and cello, WoO 32, belongs tothis early period of Beethoven's life in Vienna and waswritten for his friend Nikolaus Zmeskall vonDomanovecz, a competent amateur cellist and a modestcomposer, an official of the Royal Hungarian CourtChancellery, the weakness of whose eyes brought ajoke from Beethoven, and, presumably, the Duett mitzwei Augenglasern (Duet with Two Eyeglasses),seemingly enclosed with a letter of 1798 to Zmeskall.
The work opens with a melody for the viola, taken upby the cello in a sonata-form movement. Beethovenseems to have intended a slow movement, which wasnever written, but the following Minuet, with its B flatmajor Trio, provides a contrast to the more substantialfirst movement.
In 1808 Beethoven wrote a third cello sonata,dedicated to his intimate friend Baron Ignaz vonGleichenstein, an amateur cellist, who helped thecomposer in business matters, arranging his pensionfrom a group of rich patrons in 1809 and joining withhim in the courtship of the sisters Anna and ThereseMalfatti, the first of whom married Gleichenstein in1811, bringing his close friendship with Beethoven toan end.
The last two cello sonatas of Beethoven belong ininspiration to his final creative period. Written in 1815,they were published in 1817 and finally dedicated toCountess Maria von Erdody, a woman whose patienceBeethoven had tried sorely enough, in spite of herefforts to help him. There had been an earlier dedicationto the visiting English pianist and cellist Charles Neate,a pupil of John Field, when it seemed possible that theremight be an English edition of the two sonatas. TheSonata in C major, Op.102, No.1, written towards theend of July, was first performed the following year bythe cellist of Prince Razumovsky's quartet, JosephLinke, lodged with the Erdodys after the destruction ofRazumovsky's palace and the disbandment of hisquartet, and the pianist Carl Czerny. It is in two parallelparts, the second slow-fast sequence balancing the first.
A tranquilly meditative Andante, introduced by thecello alone leads to an Allegro vivace in the unexpectedkey of A minor, with an E minor second subject and avery short central development. There is acontemplative air about the Adagio, leading to anAndante reference to the opening of the sonata and thetentative opening of the final Allegro vivace, theheadlong course of which is interrupted by a low E flatfrom the cello, to which a fifth is then added. The pianoadds its comment and the movement proceeds, withopportunities for counterpoint duly explored, againinterrupted, in recapitulation, now by a low A flat fromthe cello, before the final section of the movement.
The Sonata in D major, Op. 102, No. 2, written inAugust 1815, opens in full vigour with a rhythmicfigure for the piano, later taken up by the cello. Thisreturns as a useful element in the central development,together with a snatch of the transition to the morelyrical second subject in the exposition. The secondmovement is a D minor Adagio, framing a serene Dmajor central section. The last movement is introducedhesitantly, a device used elsewhere by Beethoven, notleast in the companion sonata. The cello thenannounces a fugal subject, answered by the left hand ofthe pianist, followed by the third voice at a higherregister of the keyboard. As in the other sonatas, thesound of the cello is never obscured by the pianotexture, which is here characteristic in its counterpointof the final period of Beethoven's work, exploring theextreme range of the newly developing keyboardinstrument. The music again has elements of theunexpected, interrupted by the appearance of a briefsecond subject, accorded its own contrapuntaltreatment.Keith Anderson