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8.550479 - BEETHOVEN: Cello Sonatas Nos. 1 and 2
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827)
In 1796 Beethoven set out on a concert tour, following a route similar to that taken by Mozart and Prince Karl Lichnowsky in 1789, passing through Prague, Dresden and Leipzig, on the way to Berlin. Mozart had derived little material profit from his journey, although his Prussian quartets were composed on his return with the cello-playing heir to Frederick the Great, King Frederick William II, in mind. He had found little good to say about the Potsdam musical establishment. The French cellist and teacher of the king, Jean Pierre Duport, he had met in Paris in 1778, and described him in a letter to his father as very conceited. He found the Prussian court musical establishment not beyond criticism, if we accept the account of the matter recalled by his future brother-in-law. Duport had by this time been joined by his younger brother, also a cellist, and from 1787 was director of the court musical establishment.
Beethoven was pleased by his reception at Potsdam and seems not to have entertained the reservations Mozart had expressed. He played for the king his two new cello sonatas, probably written for Duport, who performed them with the composer, and was rewarded with a golden snuff-box filled with louis d'or, a present of which he remained proud. The sonatas were dedicated to King Frederick William. The Twelve Variations on a theme from Handel's oratorio Judas Maccabaeus, WoO 45, belong to the same year, and the set was published in 1797 with a dedication to Princess Christiane von Lichnowsky, wife of Mozart's former travelling companion. The Twelve Variations on Mozart's popular Ein Madchen oder Weibchen, from Die Zauberflöte, were also written in 1796 and published in Vienna in 1798. The third set of variations for cello and piano, again based on a melody from Die Zauberflöte, is the group of seven variations on Bei Mannern, welche Liebe fuhlen, written in 1801, and published the following year with a dedication to Countess von Browne.
The first of the two Opus 5 sonatas, the Sonata in F major, extends traditional practice, to the surprise of some of Beethoven's less sophisticated contemporaries, in allowing a balanced share of the music to both cello and piano. The cello had, in any case, tended to occupy a subsidiary role in the sonata repertoire, its range presenting certain technical difficulties, admirably solved by Beethoven, at least in the sonatas and variations. The sonata opens with a slow introductory passage of 34 bars, leading to an Allegro of prodigal melodic invention. The opening theme is given first to the piano, echoed by the cello, followed by a second subject moving through new keys, before the piano is permitted a passage of concertante display. The central development opens with the first subject now in A major and then in D minor, before other harmonic possibilities are explored, followed by the customary return of the opening material. A second inversion of the tonic chord heralds a cadenza, opening contrapuntally and containing a sudden Adagio, succeeded by a rapid and brief excursion into triplet rhythms, before the final appearance of the principal theme. The cello opens the second movement, closely followed in canonic imitation by the piano, with suggestions of a very different key. Here again the concertante element prevails, with an infectiously rhythmic B flat minor central episode, with the plucked notes of the cello providing an accompaniment, when the piano has the theme. Momentary relaxation in mood gives way to a burst of final brilliance, firmly establishing the tonic chord.
The Sonata in G minor, Op. 5, No.2, again has only two movements. An expressive and more extended Adagio is imbued with drama, alternating with moments of lyricism. There is a sudden silence before the lively Allegro, in which the two instruments share the opening theme, with the cello taking initial charge of the second element. The central development opens, as the Allegro had at first seemed to, in C minor, and is followed by the expected recapitulation, including the dramatic return of the closing section, followed by a coda of more varied mood. The final rondo is started by the piano, with the cello offering its own version of the first episode, before being permitted a full share of the principal theme. The heart of the movement is in the key of C major, but the tonic major is finally re-established in music of continued concertante brilliance.
Beethoven was a master of improvisation, an art that was a necessary skill in a concert pianist, since extemporised variations were a common part of public performance. His first written variations for piano were written when he was twelve and his last in 1823. The first group of variations for cello and piano uses the well known See here the conqu'ring hero comes, from Handel's oratorio Judas Maccabaeus. Alter the theme itself, the piano starts a first variation, followed by cello embroidery of the melody. Moods vary as the possibilities of the theme are investigated, leading, in customary variation style, to an Adagio and a final Rondo.
The first set of Magic Flute variations of 1796, based on Ein Madchen oder Weibchen, again transforms the original melody of Papageno into music that is characteristic in every way of Beethoven, sometimes stating the melody in grandiose terms, sometimes with tense rhythmic energy and sometimes in the capricious style of a scherzo. Once again the variations include an Adagio and a final Rondo.
The second group of Mozart variations for cello and piano, based on Pamina's aria Bei Mannern, welche Liebe fuhlen, a contemporary show-stopper in Vienna, allows a greater degree of equality between the two instruments than in the earlier sets, sharing the burden and including a variation with all the marks of a scherzo and a succeeding one in soberer mood.
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