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8.550162 - BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonatas Nos. 9, 10, 24, 27 and 28
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827)
Sonata No.9 in E Major, Opus 14 No.1
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 two piano sonatas that make up Beethoven's Opus 14, dedicated to Baroness von Braun, belong to the close of the eighteenth century both in date of composition and in musical content.
The first of the pair, the Sonata in E Major, makes no great dramatic attempt, with a charming and unpretentious first subject, followed by a subsidiary theme, introduced contrapuntally, and a central development that allows a certain tension before the gently elaborated return of the first subject in the recapitulation. The second movement, in E minor, with a contrasting C major trio section, has the double function of Minuet and slow movement, and is capped by a final Rondo of transparent texture. The composer arranged the sonata for string quartet, a form in which it has never proved particularly acceptable.
The Sonata in G Major, Opus 14 No 2, again makes no demand for virtuosity, with the straightforward clarity of its first movement and the miniature drama of its central development, followed by a march-like slow movement in C major, a theme and variations. The last movement earns its title, Scherzo, rather from the nature of its principal theme than from its form. It provides a brilliant enough conclusion, couched in terms of classical lucidity.
The Sonata in F Sharp Major, Opus 78, was the first of the three piano sonatas written in 1809, the year of Haydn's death and of a further occupation of Vienna by the armies of Napoleon. It marked a return to the sonata alter a gap of some four years and a change of mood alter the Appassionata Sonata, its immediate predecessor. The first movement opens with a brief introduction, leading to the first subject. The second of the two movements allows the principal theme, variously treated, to frame intervening episodes of pianistic excitement. The sonata is dedicated to Therese von Brunsvik, once wrongly proposed as a candidate for the role of Immortal Beloved, the object of Beethovens apparently undeclared love.
A period of six years was to elapse before Beethoven returned once more to the sonata in 1815 with the Sonata in E Minor, dedicated to Count Moritz von Lichnowsky brother of his friend and patron Prince Karl German now replaces Italian. In the marking of the movements, the first of which opens with a theme of dynamic contrast and sober cast answered by a more dramatic second subject. The second of the two movements is dominated by its lyrical Viennese principal melody, of which Beethoven makes much.
Beethoven completed his Sonata in A Major, Opus 101, in November, 1816. It was published early the following year with a dedication to Beroness Dorotnea von Ertmann. The sonata starts with a them, to be played mit der innigsten Empfindung, the sentiment demanded also for the first movement of the preceding sonata, the form defying contemporary expectations. There follows a lively march in F major with a B flat trio section and a brief slow movement, to be played using single strings of the piano, gradually increased, as was possible on instruments of the time. A snatch of the main them, of the first movement intervenes to introduce a movement that turns into a fugue of proper formal complexity, making full use of the extended range of the newly enlarged keyboard of the time, a foretaste of the still more remarkable treatment of the piano sonata that was to follow.
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.
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