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8.550255 - BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonatas WoO 47, 'Kurfurstensonaten'
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827)
Posthumous Sonatas & Sonatinas
Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Bonn in December, 1770, the son of Johann van Beethoven, in 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 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 Christoph Gottlob Neefe, who was appointed court organist in 1781. In 1784 he entered the paid service of the Archbishop as deputy court orgainist, employed as a viola-player or as cembalist in the court orchestra, and turning his hand increasingly to composition. A visit to Vienna in 1778 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 service of noble patrons who were to couple generosity with forbearance throughout his life, the latter quality often much needed.
As a younger 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 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 32 numbered piano sonatas of Beethoven provide a remarkable conspectus of his own style, ranging from the earliest, under the influence of Haydn, to whom they are dedicated, to the last, which explore a new world in their bold complexity. To those immediately following Beethoven, the sonatas, like the nine symphonies, offered both a challenge, in some ways a guide, and, at the same time, a field for varied speculation in a search for literary sources or parallels.
The so-called Pastoral Sonata, Opus 28 in D major, was completed in 1801 and published the following year, with a dedication to Monsieur Joseph Noble de Sonnenfels, former adviser to the Emperor Joseph II, a free-mason, Jewish by birth, and a leading figure in the Enlightenment from whom Beethoven might expect no particular material advantage. The title was, as so often, not Beethovens, although the reason for it is obvious enough from the gentle opening of the first movement. Presumably a similar association of ideas led Arnold Schering to propose a literary source in Shakespeare's Winter's Tale. There is a steady march in the slow movement, a scherzo and trio and a final rondo based on the rocking rhythm of its principal theme.
The three sonatas grouped under the posthumous publication number of WoO 47 belong to the earliest period of Beethoven's life. These so-called Kurfürsten sonatas were written in Bonn and published in 1783 with a dedication to the Archbishop and Elector (Kurfürst) of Cologne, Maximilian Friedrich, described as the work of a boy of eleven, possibly a paternal understatement for commercial advantage. Their interest must lie in hints of the composer's later development and even in suggestions of themes that were to appear in other mature compositions.
The sonata numbered WoO 51 was left incomplete. Completed by Ferdinand Ries, the sonata was intended for Beethoven's friend Eleonore von Breuning, member of a family that showed him much kindness in Bonn. It was probably written before Beethoven moved to Vienna, although some confusion of dating has arisen from a later letter he wrote to Eleonore von Breuning, offering her the sonata. Some have supposed that the letter was written from Vienna, while others have preferred to see it as a communication sent to her while the composer was still in Bonn. The two sonatinas in F and in G may not be authentic, although they were included in the first complete edition of Beethoven's works. Those who accept the sonatinas as the work of Beethoven assign them to the earliest period of his life and identify them with two completed small pieces itemised in the posthumous inventory of the composer's effects.
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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