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8.550045 - BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonatas Nos. 8, 14 and 23
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827)
Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Bonn, grandson of the Kapellmeister of the musical establishment of the Prince-Archbishop of Cologne and son of a singer in the chapel. His father, Johann van Beethoven, was of little help to him, and denied him a sound general education, while attempting to exploit the child's still undeveloped musical gifts. Beethoven was to suffer for the rest of his life from his lack of education and a consequent inability to express himself at all clearly.
By good fortune he found an able teacher in Christian Gottlob Neefe, court organist and musical director of a theatrical company. Training was thorough, with a study of J. S. Bach's famous 48 Preludes and Fugues and the duty of deputising for Neefe both as organist and as conductor of the theatre orchestra. Beethoven's position was officially recognised when, at the age of fourteen, he was appointed assistant court organist.
In his final years in Bonn Beethoven profited from experience as a viola-player in the opera orchestra, playing the works of composers such as Mozart, Cimarosa and Cluck. It was in Bonn that, in 1792, he met Haydn, returning from a visit to London, where he had conducted the first set of his London Symphonies.
Whether at Haydn's invitation or of his own volition Beethoven travelled to Vienna at the end of the year, and was to remain there for the rest of his life. He took some lessons from Haydn, to whom he dedicated his first piano sonatas, but found in the court organist Albrechtsberger a more satisfactory and systematic teacher, particularly of counterpoint, the art of putting melody against melody. From the court Kapellmeister Salieri, to whom he dedicated his first violin sonatas, Beethoven learned the techniques necessary to the setting of Italian words.
Mozart in Vienna had struggled to earn an adequate living without direct patronage, and without a remunerative position at court, although the success in Prague of Don Giovanni had brought him the official position of Kammermusikus, chamber musician, with the responsibility for writing minuets for court balls and entertainments.
In the 1790s there had already been changes, as the French Revolution took its course, disturbing the stability of society, as the more privileged classes became alarmed, and the radicals more optimistic. Beethoven sought to exist in Vienna by his own exertions, in independence of a patron. He was soon respected as a remarkable pianist, performing, as was the custom, mainly in the houses of the aristocracy, but offering a certain number of 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 his later correspondence seems to be concerned with the difficulties of this, in an age when copyright agreements were unknown.
The event that was to alter Beethoven's life dramatically was his deafness, which, becoming evident as early as 1798, was to make public performance impossible, and to drive the composer into an enforced solitude.
A remarkable document, the so-called Heiligenstadt Testament, a message written to his brothers Kaspar and Johann, allows us to see the despair that deafness brought him. The letter is in the form of a final will and testament, to be read after his death. Written in the countryside outside Vienna, at the village of Heiligenstadt, it was the prelude to an act of will by which he surmounted his fate. The death that he seemed to welcome was to occur only 25 years later, after a life in which new heights in music had been scaled and a new world opened to his successors.
Sonata No.8 in C Minor, Op. 13
The first movement opens with a famous dramatic introduction, fragments of which reappear to open the middle, development section, and to introduce the final bars (the coda or tail-piece). A brilliant rapid section makes up the body of the movement, with a contrasting theme of suaver 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 A major. It is followed by a Rondo derived, it would seem, from sketches made much earlier for other purposes.
For this and a number of other sonatas one German scholar has suggested, on a hint reported from a conversation with Beethoven, a literary model. In this case the parallel proposed is the story of Hero and Leander, as related by Musaeus. The first of this pair, a priestess of Aphrodite, was visited nightly by her lover Leander, who used to swim across the Hellespont to her tower at Abydos, and was finally drowned, when Hero's light failed to guide him through the stormy seas.
Sonata No.14 in C Sharp Minor 'quasi una
fantasia' Op. 27, No.2 "Moonlight"
This sonata has always enjoyed enormous popularity, and has, therefore, been the subject of speculation. It has also undergone the indignity of various arrangements, including, in 1835, a concert performance in which the first movement was played by an orchestra, and the second two by Liszt.
The form of the Moonlight Sonata is unusual. Its first movement, a texture of delicacy, is a slow one, and it is followed by a brief second movement in the form of a scherzo and trio, the slightly less regular successor of the Minuet. Histrionics are left until the last movement, with its contrasts of melody and dynamics.
Sonata No.23 in F Minor, Op. 57
Sonata in F Minor, Opus 57, the Appassionata, was considered by Beethoven to be among his best piano sonatas. 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 us less. Dedicated to the Countess of Brunswick, the sonata was completed in 1805 and published two years later.
Once again this sonata proved a fertile source for imaginative speculation in the nineteenth century, writers finding in it grim spectres, heartfelt emotions, storms of passion and the ominous threats of Fate. Musically its first movement is one that allows a full exploration of the resources of the keyboard. It is followed by the kind of slower melody that Beethoven knew so well how to write. This is treated as the subject of a number of variations. Fiercely repeated chords introduce the Finale, which, with its great technical and musical demands, brings us into a new world, before the coda, with its sudden reminiscences of the beginning of the movement.
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