BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonatas Nos. 5-7, Op. 10 and No. 25, Op. 79
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Ludwig van Beethoven (1770- 1827)
Sonata No.5 in C Minor, Opus 10 No.1
Sonata No.6 In F Major, Opus 10 No.2
Sonata No.7 In D Major, Opus 10 No.3
Sonata No.25 In G Major, Opus 79
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 courtKapellmeister Antonio Salieri in vocal and dramatic setting. More important hewas to attach himself to a series of noble patrons who were to couplegenerosity with forbearance 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.
The three sonatas that form Opus 10
belong to the close of the eighteenth century, part of that group of thirteensonatas that remain within the classical tradition that Beethoven was at firstto explore and expand. The Opus 10 sonatas are dedicated to Countess vonBrowne, the wife of Count Johann Georg von Browne-Camus, a nobleman of Irishancestry in the Russian Imperial service in Vienna. Beethoven had dedicated histhree String Trios, Opus 9, to the Count, to whom he was indebted invarious ways, including the gift of a horse that he had soon abandoned.
The Sonata in C Minor, Opus 10 No.1,opens with a bright arpeggio, to which there is a gentler answer, as the themeunfolds, leading to a second theme in E flat major. Further thematic materialappears in the central development, before the final re-appearance of theoriginal material and the end of the movement.
The A flat major slow movement takes itsshape from the expressive principal theme with which it begins and is followedby a last movement of tense drama that leads to final resolution in C major.
The second of the Opus 10 sonatas,the Sonata in F Major, opens with a jaunty melodic figure, leadingalmost at once to a further theme in C major, followed by a wider explorationof the keyboard in a theme that closes the first section of the movement. Thecentral development is interrupted by the return of the first subject in anunexpected key, swiftly finding again the necessary tonality for an orthodoxrecapitulation. F minor is the key of the scherzo movement, with a D flat trio,both with a touch of the idiom familiar from the work of Haydn. The finalmovement opens, at least, in fugal style, its sonata-form key structurecombined with a strongly contrapuntal element, the secondary theme derived fromthe opening figure of the principal subject.
The Sonata in D Major, Opus 10 No.3,is on a grander scale than its companions. The first subject of the Presto isbriefly developed, before a second thematic element appears, in B minor,leading to the second subject proper in A major. The development exploresremoter keys and a wide range of the keyboard before the return of theprincipal theme in the recapitulation. There is a broadly constructed D minorslow movement, in music of remarkable expressive power, as it unfolds. Thedramatic tension is delicately broken by the Minuet, with the contrapuntalimitation of its middle section and answering G Major Trio. The final Rondoopens with a hesitant interrogative figure before embarking on a strongercourse. The movement ends with a figure that aptly answers the opening.
Sonata No.25 in G Major, Opus 79,belongs to a much later period in Beethoven's life. 1809 brought a furtheroccupation of Vienna by the armies of Napoleon, with the departure of theimperial family and many of the nobility. In May Haydn died, as the city wasunder bombardment, from which Beethoven sheltered in his brother's cellar. Bythe autumn peace -a dead peace, as Beethoven described it - had been restored.
It was in this year that Beethoven returned to the form of the piano sonata,after a gap of four years. His last sonata had been the Appassionata,but now he attempted three works on a much smaller scale. The G Major Sonata isthe second of these three, and opens with a theme that suggests, at least, theGerman dance that was the source of the waltz. The relative simplicity andclarity of texture of this opening movement is followed by a pastoral G minorAndante, followed by a rapid final movement based on a principal theme andopening figure appropriate to a work to be described as Sonata facile ouSonatine.