BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonatas Nos. 1-3, Op. 2
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Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Sonata No.1 in F Minor, Opus 2 No.1
Sonata in A Major, Opus 2 No.2
Sonata in C Major, Opus 2 No.3
Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Bonn inDecember, 1770, the son of Johann van Beethoven, a singer in the service of theArchbishop of Cologne, and, more important, the grandson of Ludwig vanBeethoven, Kapellmeister to the same patron. It was perhaps the verydistinction and strength of character of the head of the family that lay at theroot of Johann van Beethoven's inadequacy as a father and final professionalincompetence. The elder Ludwig died in 1773, but was to remain for his grandsona powerful posthumous influence, while Johann slid further into habits ofdissipation, with Ludwig, his eldest surviving son, assuming in 1789 the roleof head of the family, with responsibility for his two younger brothers.
In Bonn Beethoven received erraticmusical training at home, followed by a much more thorough course of study withChristian Gottlob Neefe, who was appointed court organist in 1781. By 1784Beethoven had entered the paid service of the Archbishop as deputy courtorganist, employed as a viola-player or as cembalist in the court orchestra,and turning his hand increasingly to composition. A visit to Vienna in 1788 forthe purpose of study with Mozart led to nothing, cut short by the illness andsubsequent death of his mother, but in 1792 he was to return to the imperialcapital, again with his patron's encouragement, to take lessons with Haydn.
Beethoven came to Vienna with the highestrecommendations and was quick to establish himself as a pianist and composer.
From Haydn he claimed to have learned nothing, but he was to undertake furtherstudy with Johann Georg Albrechtsberger in counterpoint and with the court KapellmeisterAntonio Salieri in vocal and dramatic setting. More important he was to attachhimself to a series of noble patrons who were to couple generosity withforbearance throughout his life.
As a young composer in Bonn Beethoven hadfollowed the trends of his time; in Vienna he was increasingly to develop hisown unmistakable and original musical idiom, sometimes strange and uncouth bythe standards of the older generation, but suggesting completely new worlds toothers. It was an apparent stroke of fate that played an essential part in thisprocess. By the turn of the century Beethoven had begun to experience bouts ofdeafness. It was this inability to hear that inevitably directed his attentionto composition rather than performance, as the latter activity becameincreasingly impossible. Deafness was to isolate him from society and toaccentuate still further his personal eccentricities of behaviour, shown in hissuspicious ingratitude to those who helped him and his treatment of his nephewKarl and his unfortunate sister-in-law.
In Vienna Beethoven lived throughturbulent times. The armies of Napoleon, once admired by Beethoven as anenlightened republican, until he had himself crowned as emperor, were to occupythe imperial capital, and war brought various changes of fortune to thecomposer's friends and supporters. The last twelve years of his life were spentin the relative political tranquillity that followed Napoleon's final defeat, aperiod in which the freedom of thought that had characterised the reign ofJoseph II was replaced by the repression of his successors, anxious to preventa recurrence of the unfortunate events that had caused such damage in France.
Beethoven survived as an all-licensed eccentric, his bellowed politicalindiscretions tolerated, while others, apparently saner, were subject to theattention of the secret police. He died in March, 1827, his death the occasionfor public mourning in Vienna at the passing of a figure whose like the citywas not to see again.
By 1796, when Beethoven brought out thefirst set of three piano sonatas, dedicated to Joseph Haydn, he was enjoyingconsiderable success in Vienna as a performer, patronised by Prince Lichnowsky,in whose company Mozart had travelled, in 1790, to Berlin and Potsdam, by Baronvan Swieten, arbiter of musical taste and author of the texts of Haydn'soratorios The Seasons and The Creation, and by other noblemen ofgenerosity and distinction. He had already written sonatas for the keyboardduring his early years in Bonn and had caused Haydn some embarrassment byfoisting on him a set of variations for piano, written and played in Bonn, butnow claimed as new works. Haydn had written to Beethoven's patron, theArchbishop of Cologne, offering the supposed new composition as evidence of hispupil's progress in Vienna, coupled with a request for a more generousallowance for the young musician, who, it transpired, had been less than honestwith his teacher both about his work in composition and the true state of hisfinances. The dedication of the three sonatas that form Opus 2 came afterHaydn's return from his second visit to London and after lessons had ceased.
The first of the set, the Sonata in FMinor, opens with a first movement in the spirit of the older composer,with an ascending rocket of a principal theme, to which a subsidiary motiveprovides the necessary contrast of contour and key. The second movement Adagiocalls for that singing style of performance for which Beethoven was well known,as the principal theme is elaborated and embellished. The Minuet, with hiscontrasting F major Trio, presages later Scherzo movements, while the finalPrestissimo brings a touch of Promethean fire.
The second sonata, in A major, makesgreater demands on both performer and listener, in particular through thequality that contemporary critics were to deprecate as "learned", theimportant element of counterpoint. The first movement contains surprises, withits dramatic second subject and the sudden shift of key at the start of the centraldevelopment. The second movement is in a stately D major and is followed by aScherzo of deceptive simplicity and a contrasting A minor Trio. The final Rondoopens with gentle panache, reserving something of its dramatic fire to thechromatic opening of its central section, material that reappears in theapproach to the softer conclusion.
The C Major Sonata opens with acharacteristic figure, echoed in the bass, a passage of some brilliance leadingto a G minor second subject. The third section of the movement, therecapitulation, seems set to open in D major, until, by devious harmonic paths,the original key is restored, the music proceeding to a cadenza before itsbrilliant coda. The slow movement is in the unexpected key of E major and itselaborate melodic figuration is followed by a cunnigly contrived C majorScherzo and A minor Trio. The sonata ends with a movement that calls forconsiderable panache, reminding us that at this stage in his career Beethovenseemed destined for fame as a virtuoso performer, at a time when the roles ofcomposer and performer were generally combined.
Jeno Jando was born at Pecs, in southHungary, in 1952. He started to learn the piano when he was seven and laterstudied at the Ferenc Liszt Academy of Music under Katalin Nemes and PalKadosa, becoming assistant to the latter on his graduation in 1974. Jando haswon a number of piano competitions in Hungary and abroad, including first prizein the 1973 Hungarian Piano Concours and a first prize in the chamber musiccategory at the Sydney International Piano Competition in 1977. In addition tohis many appearances in Hungary, he has played widely abroad in Eastern andWestern Europe, in Canada and in Japan.
He is currently engaged in a pr