BEETHOVEN: Violin Sonatas Opp. 23 and 96 / 12 Variations (Ibolya Toth/ Jeno Jando/ Takako Nishizaki) (Naxos: 8.550285)
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Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827)
Violin Sonata No.4 in A Minor, Op. 23
Violin Sonata No.10 in G Major, Op. 96
Variations on 'Se vuol ballare'
from Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro, WoO 40
In 1792 Beethoven left his native city of Bonn to seek his fortune inthe imperial capital, Vienna. Five years earlier his patron, the Archbishop ofCologne, a scion of the imperial family, had sent him to Vienna, where he hadhoped to have lessons with Mozart. His plans were frustrated by the illness andsubsequent death of his mother, which made it necessary to return to Bonn andbefore long to take charge of the welfare of his younger brothers. Beethoven'sfather, overshadowed by the eminence of his own father. Kapellmeister to aformer Archbishop, had proved inadequate both as a musician and in the family,of which his son now took control.
As a boy Beethoven had been trained to continue family tradition as amusician and had followed his inadequate father and relatively distinguishedgrandfather as a member of the archiepiscopal musical establishment. In 1792 hearrived in Vienna with introductions to various members of the nobility andwith the offer of lessons with Haydn, from whom he later claimed to havelearned nothing. There were further lessons from the Court Composer, AntonioSalieri, and from Johann Georg Albrechtsberger, with violin lessons fromSchuppanzigh and from the former Esterhazy violinist Wenzel Krumpholtz. Hisinitial career as a keyboard virtuoso was one of some brilliance and he was toestablish himself, in the course of time, as a figure of remarkable genius andoriginality, as a man no respecter of persons, his growing eccentricity all thegreater for his increasing deafness. This last disability made publicperformance, whether as a keyboard-player or in the direction of his own music,increasingly difficult, and must have served to encourage the development ofone particular facet of his music, stigmatised by hostile contemporary criticsas "learned", the use of counterpoint. He died in Vienna in 1827.
The works that Beethoven wrote for violin and keyboard cover a periodfrom about 1792 up to 1819, the period of the Hammerklavier Sonata, startingwith a set of variations on an operatic air from Mozart and ending with a setof variations on national themes for flute or violin. The most significant partof this repertoire must be the ten sonatas which, although uneven in quality,represent a major contribution to the literature of the genre. Here Beethovenshows his ability to provide music that demands a partnership between the twoplayers, no more piano sonatas with optional violin accompaniment, whatever thetitle-page of the earlier works may have suggested. As in the maturer work ofMozart, the violin is treated as an essential participant, a division of labourthat has since been generally established. 1t is worth noticing that eight ofthe ten sonatas were written between 1797 and 1802.
The Sonata in A minor, Opus 23,was written in 1801 and published, together with the Sonata Opus 24, in the same year, with a dedication to thebanker Count Moritz von Fries, a strong supporter of Beethoven, whom hecontinued to assist financially until his own bankruptcy in 1825. The firstmovement is one of particular brilliance, with a lilting second subject thatfinds a place for subtle contrapuntal pointing and a central developmentderived largely from the opening figure of the movement. Counterpoint has amore important role in the A major Andante scherzoso with its quirky openingsection and stricter fugal imitation in w hat follows. The final Allegro moltoallows the piano to state the principal subject, followed by the violin,repeated after the brief Adagio that closes the first intervening episode. Abrief scherzo-like passage in A major and the return once more of the principaltheme lead to a slow F major theme treated contrapuntally and in other ways.
These elements re-appear in the concluding section of the sonata.
Beethoven wrote his Sonata in Gmajor, Opus 96, in 1812 for his royal pupil Archduke Rudolph and thevisiting French violinist Pierre Rode in a private performance at the end ofDecember. The violin part was designed specifically for Rode, who, it seemed,disliked the customary Viennese finale with its necessary panache. The first movementopens hesitatingly, the opening figure repeated before the first subject isfully stated. The second subject ascends brightly, before a second half ofdescending triplets. After the central development the first subject returnseven more hesitatingly to introduce the final recapitulation. A moving E flatmajor Adagio is succeeded by a capricious G minor Scherzo, framing an E flatmajor Trio that climbs to the heights, and ends in a brief G major coda. Thelast movement concession to Rode is marked Poco allegretto, its principalsubject announced first by the piano, followed by the violin. This is on thewhole a gentle movement, varied by the inclusion of an Adagio and writtencadenzas for the two instruments leading to a false return of the main theme,the last true appearance of which is preceded by an interesting passage ofcontrapuntal imitation.
Mozart's opera Le nozze di Figaro
(The Marriage of Figaro) was first staged in 1786 and appeared in variouspublished arrangements in the following years. There were revivals in Vienna in1789 and 1790, but no performance in Vienna after Beethoven's arrival thereuntil 1798. The opera, however, remained well known, its melodies available ina variety of versions. Beethoven seems to have completed his variations onFigaro's cynical 'Se vuol ballare, Signor Contino' (If you would dance, SirCount) in 1793, although the work may have existed in some form or other beforehe moved to Vienna. From there he sent a copy to his friend Eleonore vonBreuning, explaining how he has committed it to paper to prevent imitation byhis rivals in Vienna and how the final trills in the coda present noinsuperable difficulties, if other notes are left to the violin.
The theme itself is played pizzicato by the violin, followed by a firstvariation marked sempre dolce in which the piano takes the melody. The secondvariation starts with a semiquaver piano accompaniment with a staccato violinaccompaniment to a piano variation. The running notes of the third version,marked sempre piano e legato, leads to a fourth opened by the descending scalesof the piano, echoed by the violin. In the fifth a violin trill and descendingpiano scales are followed by a marked rhythmic figure from both instruments.
The theme is then offered in F minor, the key also of the seventh variation,with the major key restored in the eighth, with its triplet accompanimentfiguration. The ninth is for piano alone, leaving the violin to start thefollowing melodic variation. The contrasts of dynamics and rhythm in thepenultimate variation lead to a concluding twelfth version, with anaccompanying Alberti bass and a violin statement of the theme that starts indouble stopping. The coda, with its trill to challenge the technique ofEleonore von Breuning, has other surprises, and a brief element of contrapuntalimitation as it draws to a close.
Takako Nishizaki is one of Japan's finest violinists. After studyingwith her father, Shinji Nishizaki, she became the first student of ShinichiSuzuki, the creator of the famous Suzuki Method of violin teaching forchildren. Subsequently she went to Japan's famous Toho School of Music, and tothe Juilliard School in the United States, where she studied with Joseph Fuchs.
Takako Nishizaki is on