|About this Recording
8.550161 - BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonatas Nos. 5-7, Op. 10 and No. 25, Op. 79
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770- 1827)
Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Bonn in December, 1770, the son of Johann van Beethoven, a singer in the service of the Archbishop of Cologne, and, more important, the grandson of Ludwig van Beethoven, Kapellmeister to the same patron. It was perhaps the very distinction and strength of character of the head of the family that lay at the root of Johann van Beethoven's inadequacy as a father and final professional incompetence. The elder Ludwig died in 1773, but was to remain for his grandson a powerful posthumous influence, while Johann slid further into habits of dissipation, with Ludwig, his eldest surviving son, assuming in 1789 the role of head of the family, with responsibility for his two younger brothers.
In Bonn Beethoven received erratic musical training at home, followed by a much more thorough course of study with Christian Gottlob Neefe, who was appointed court organist in 1781. By 1784 Beethoven had entered the paid service of the Archbishop as deputy court organist, 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 for the purpose of study with Mozart led to nothing, cut short by the illness and subsequent death of his mother, but in 1792 he was to return to the imperial capital, again with his patron's encouragement, to take lessons with Haydn.
Beethoven came to Vienna with the highest recommendations and was quick to establish himself as a pianist and composer. From Haydn he claimed to have learned nothing, but he was to undertake further study with Johann Georg Albrechtsberger in counterpoint and with the court Kapellmeister Antonio Salieri in vocal and dramatic setting. More important he was to attach himself to a series of noble patrons who were to couple generosity with forbearance throughout his life.
As a young composer in Bonn Beethoven had followed the trends of his time; in Vienna he was increasingly to develop his own unmistakable and original musical idiom, sometimes strange and uncouth by the standards of the older generation, but suggesting completely new worlds to others. It was an apparent stroke of fate that played an essential part in this process. By the turn of the century Beethoven had begun to experience bouts of deafness. It was this inability to hear that inevitably directed his attention to composition rather than performance, as the latter activity became increasingly impossible. Deafness was to isolate him from society and to accentuate still further his personal eccentricities of behaviour, shown in his suspicious ingratitude to those who helped him and his treatment of his nephew Karl and his unfortunate sister-in-law.
In Vienna Beethoven lived through turbulent times. The armies of Napoleon, once admired by Beethoven as an enlightened republican, until he had himself crowned as emperor, were to occupy the imperial capital, and war brought various changes of fortune to the composer's friends and supporters. The last twelve years of his life were spent in the relative political tranquillity that followed Napoleon's final defeat, a period in which the freedom of thought that had characterised the reign of Joseph II was replaced by the repression of his successors, anxious to prevent a recurrence of the unfortunate events that had caused such damage in France. Beethoven survived as an all-licensed eccentric, his bellowed political indiscretions tolerated, while others, apparently saner, were subject to the attention of the secret police. He died in March, 1827, his death the occasion for public mourning in Vienna at the passing of a figure whose like the city was not to see again.
The three sonatas that form Opus 10 belong to the close of the eighteenth century, part of that group of thirteen sonatas that remain within the classical tradition that Beethoven was at first to explore and expand. The Opus 10 sonatas are dedicated to Countess von Browne, the wife of Count Johann Georg von Browne-Camus, a nobleman of Irish ancestry in the Russian Imperial service in Vienna. Beethoven had dedicated his three String Trios, Opus 9, to the Count, to whom he was indebted in various 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 theme unfolds, leading to a second theme in E flat major. Further thematic material appears in the central development, before the final re-appearance of the original material and the end of the movement.
The A flat major slow movement takes its shape from the expressive principal theme with which it begins and is followed by 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, leading almost at once to a further theme in C major, followed by a wider exploration of the keyboard in a theme that closes the first section of the movement. The central development is interrupted by the return of the first subject in an unexpected key, swiftly finding again the necessary tonality for an orthodox recapitulation. 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 final movement opens, at least, in fugal style, its sonata-form key structure combined with a strongly contrapuntal element, the secondary theme derived from the 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 is briefly developed, before a second thematic element appears, in B minor, leading to the second subject proper in A major. The development explores remoter keys and a wide range of the keyboard before the return of the principal theme in the recapitulation. There is a broadly constructed D minor slow movement, in music of remarkable expressive power, as it unfolds. The dramatic tension is delicately broken by the Minuet, with the contrapuntal imitation of its middle section and answering G Major Trio. The final Rondo opens with a hesitant interrogative figure before embarking on a stronger course. 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 further occupation of Vienna by the armies of Napoleon, with the departure of the imperial family and many of the nobility. In May Haydn died, as the city was under bombardment, from which Beethoven sheltered in his brother's cellar. By the 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 is the second of these three, and opens with a theme that suggests, at least, the German dance that was the source of the waltz. The relative simplicity and clarity of texture of this opening movement is followed by a pastoral G minor Andante, followed by a rapid final movement based on a principal theme and opening figure appropriate to a work to be described as Sonata facile ou Sonatine.
He is currently engaged in a project to record all of Beethoven's piano solo works for Naxos. Other recordings for the Naxos label include the concertos of Grieg and Schumann as well as Rachmaninov's 2nd Concerto and Paganini Rhapsody.
Close the window