BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonatas Nos. 8, 14 and 23
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Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827)
Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Bonn, grandson of theKapellmeister of the musical establishment of the Prince-Archbishop of Cologneand son of a singer in the chapel. His father, Johann van Beethoven, was oflittle help to him, and denied him a sound general education, while attemptingto exploit the child's still undeveloped musical gifts. Beethoven was to sufferfor the rest of his life from his lack of education and a consequent inabilityto express himself at all clearly.
By good fortune he found an able teacher inChristian Gottlob Neefe, court organist and musical director of a theatricalcompany. Training was thorough, with a study of J. S. Bach's famous 48Preludes and Fugues and the duty of deputising for Neefe both as organist andas conductor of the theatre orchestra. Beethoven's position was officiallyrecognised when, at the age of fourteen, he was appointed assistant courtorganist.
In his final years in Bonn Beethoven profitedfrom experience as a viola-player in the opera orchestra, playing the works ofcomposers such as Mozart, Cimarosa and Cluck. It was in Bonn that, in 1792, hemet Haydn, returning from a visit to London, where he had conducted the firstset of his London Symphonies.
Whether at Haydn's invitation or of his ownvolition Beethoven travelled to Vienna at the end of the year, and was toremain there for the rest of his life. He took some lessons from Haydn, to whomhe dedicated his first piano sonatas, but found in the court organist Albrechtsbergera more satisfactory and systematic teacher, particularly of counterpoint, theart of putting melody against melody. From the court Kapellmeister Salieri, towhom he dedicated his first violin sonatas, Beethoven learned the techniquesnecessary to the setting of Italian words.
Mozart in Vienna had struggled to earn anadequate living without direct patronage, and without a remunerative positionat court, although the success in Prague of Don Giovanni had brought him theofficial position of Kammermusikus, chamber musician, with the responsibilityfor writing minuets for court balls and entertainments.
In the 1790s there had already been changes, asthe French Revolution took its course, disturbing the stability of society, asthe more privileged classes became alarmed, and the radicals more optimistic.
Beethoven sought to exist in Vienna by his own exertions, in independence of apatron. He was soon respected as a remarkable pianist, performing, as was thecustom, mainly in the houses of the aristocracy, but offering a certain numberof the public concerts in the year. As a teacher he had distinguished pupils,and was able to gain some support from his compositions, although much of hislater correspondence seems to be concerned with the difficulties of this, in anage when copyright agreements were unknown.
The event that was to alter Beethoven's lifedramatically was his deafness, which, becoming evident as early as 1798, was tomake public performance impossible, and to drive the composer into an enforcedsolitude.
A remarkable document, the so-calledHeiligenstadt Testament, a message written to his brothers Kaspar and Johann,allows us to see the despair that deafness brought him. The letter is in theform of a final will and testament, to be read after his death. Written in thecountryside outside Vienna, at the village of Heiligenstadt, it was the preludeto an act of will by which he surmounted his fate. The death that he seemed towelcome was to occur only 25 years later, after a life in which new heights inmusic had been scaled and a new world opened to his successors.
Probably the best known of Beethoven's sonatasare the Pathetique, Moonlight and Appassionata. Only thefirst name was given by the composer. The Moonlight Sonata has its namefrom the inspiration of the poet Rellstab (whose verses were to be set to musicby Schubert). Writing in 1832 he likened the sonata to the wild scenerybordering Lake Lucerne, seen from a boat by moonlight. The French romanticcomposer Berlioz, on the other hand, preferred to see sunlight in the sonata,and other writers have been equally imaginative.
Sonata No.8 in C Minor, Op. 13"Pathetique"
The Sonata pathetique was written in 1798and 1799, and was published in the latter year with a dedication to PrinceLichnowsky, the nobleman who had travelled to the court of Berlin with Mozartin 1789. The work, Opus 13, is in C Minor, and is described as a"Grande" Sonata, music suitable for public performance by the composer,who was at this time one of the most distinguished keyboard-players in Vienna.
The first movement opens with a famous dramaticintroduction, fragments of which reappear to open the middle, developmentsection, and to introduce the final bars (the coda or tail-piece). A brilliantrapid section makes up the body of the movement, with a contrasting theme ofsuaver outline contrasting with the stronger emotion of the first theme.
The second movement, marked Adagio cantabile(slow and singing in tone}, is) as is usual, in a different key, here that of Amajor. It is followed by a Rondo derived, it would seem, from sketches mademuch earlier for other purposes.
For this and a number of other sonatas oneGerman scholar has suggested, on a hint reported from a conversation withBeethoven, a literary model. In this case the parallel proposed is the story ofHero and Leander, as related by Musaeus. The first of this pair, a priestess ofAphrodite, was visited nightly by her lover Leander, who used to swim across theHellespont to her tower at Abydos, and was finally drowned, when Hero's lightfailed to guide him through the stormy seas.
Sonata No.14 in C Sharp Minor 'quasi unafantasia' Op. 27, No.2 "Moonlight"
The Moonlight Sonata is more properlydescribed by its title Sonata quasi una fantasia, Opus 27 No.1, in thekey of C Sharp Minor. The imaginative writer Arnold Schering, already referredto, found a literary parallel with Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, butothers have chosen to find in the sonata romantic notions of a different kind.
It was completed in 1801, and dedicated, at the last minute, to CountessGiulietta Guicciardi, a young pupil of Beethoven.
This sonata has always enjoyed enormouspopularity, and has, therefore, been the subject of speculation. It has alsoundergone the indignity of various arrangements, including, in 1835, a concertperformance in which the first movement was played by an orchestra, and thesecond two by Liszt.
The form of the Moonlight Sonata isunusual. Its first movement, a texture of delicacy, is a slow one, and it isfollowed by a brief second movement in the form of a scherzo and trio, theslightly less regular successor of the Minuet. Histrionics are left until thelast movement, with its contrasts of melody and dynamics.
Sonata No.23 in F Minor, Op. 57"Appassionata"
Sonata in F Minor, Opus 57, theAppassionata, was considered by Beethoven to be among his best pianosonatas. Its nick-name, although not chosen by the com- poser, is an apt one,although Schering's parallel with Shakespeare's Macbeth may appeal to usless. Dedicated to the Countess of Brunswick, the sonata was completed in 1805and published two years later.
Once again this sonata proved a fertile so