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8.550151 - BEETHOVEN, L. van: Piano Sonatas Nos. 30-32, Opp. 109-111
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 years after the downfall of Napoleon in 1815 may have brought a measure of peace to Europe, and to Vienna, where the Congress met to re-establish something of the old order. 1815 brought new turbulence in Beethoven's private affairs, with the death from tuberculosis of his brother Caspar Carl, who left a nine-year-old son, Karl. The following five years found Beethoven in a bitter legal wrangle with his sister-in-law Johanna van Beethoven over the guardianship of the boy, a quarrel in which he did not hesitate to denigrate the boy's mother in every possible way. The influence of his powerful friends had its result in an Appeal Court verdict in his favour in 1820, although his relationship with his nephew cannot have brought either of them much satisfaction.
1820 brought a renewed burst of activity as a composer. In that year Beethoven completed his Sonata in E Major, Opus 109, and the two final piano sonatas were to follow in 1821 and early 1822. At the same time the Missa Solemnis was finished and work was continued on the Ninth Symphony. The remarkable final string quartets were to follow.
The thirty-two piano sonatas of Beethoven span a period of twenty-five years, from the publication in 1796 of the three sonatas of Opus 2, dedicated to Joseph Haydn, to the last sonatas of 1820, 1821 and 1822. They reflect the development of the composer's language and invention, as the high classical style gives way to wilder poetic imaginings and technical expansions of the original form, taking advantage of the increased range and capacity of the piano itself, which underwent various changes.
The Sonata in E Major, Opus 109, was dedicated to Maximiliane Brentano, daughter of Antonie Brentano, a convincing candidate for the role of Immortal Beloved, the mysterious woman who was revealed as the object of Bcethoven's hopeless attachment in a letter found among his effects after his death. The sonata, which follows immediately after the massive Hammerklavier Sonata, has an improvisatory element in its swift change of mood from the bright opening to the Adagio that interrupts it. The rapid second movement in E minor provides a brief glimpse of traditional sonata form before the final movement, an expressive theme and six variations, starting with a waltz and including, in the fifth variation, that element of counterpoint that had become increasingly important.
Beethoven intended to dedicate his last two sonatas to Antonie Brentano, although Opus 111 appeared in Vienna with a dedication to Archduke Rudolph. The Sonata in A Flat Major, Opus 110, opens with a theme, to be played con amabilita, one of those expressive melodies that Beethoven had handled so well as a performer. Delicate arpeggios lead to a subsidiary theme, which is to return as the movement draws to a close. The second movement, a duple time scherzo and trio, leads to a third movement with all the freedom of improvisation, including a recitative and Arioso dolente that is to return to link the following fugue with the inversion of the subject that forms the final section of the movement.
The Sonata in C Minor, Opus 111, opens with a strongly dramatic introduction leading to the statement of what sounds very much like a fugal subject, although it is to receive different treatment of a less formal kind in the movement that follows. The second of the two movements of the sonata is in the form of a theme and variations in C major, treated with considerable freedom. The two movements combine in a remarkable way the two elements that had assumed the greatest importance in the last period of Beethoven's creative life, the element of counterpoint and the element of variation, which here undergo their apotheosis.
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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