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8.550166 - BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonatas Nos. 12, 16 and 18
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 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 Beethoven 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 coupled generosity with forbearance throughout his life, the latter quality often much needed.
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 Sonata in A flat major, Opus 26, begins to explore, for Beethoven, new ground in the piano sonata. The first movement is in the form of an Andante theme followed by five variations. The second movement is a Scherzo, its contrasting Trio in a lilting D flat major. This is followed by the famous Funeral March on the death of a hero, the kind of theme popular in republican circles and to occur elsewhere in Beethoven, notably in the slow movement of the Eroica Symphony. It was, however, played at Beethoven's own funeral in 1827. The final Rondo has been seen by some as an answer to the composer-pianist Cramer, a potential rival in popularity. The sonata was dedicated to Beethoven's friend and patron Prince Karl von Lichnowsky.
The three sonatas of Opus 31 were completed in 1802 and published the following year in Zurich. Some have seen the first of the group, the Sonata in G major, as relatively conventional.
The third of the Opus 31 sonatas, the Sonata in E flat major, has become known to some as La chasse or Jagd-Sonate, because of a supposed association with the hunt in the last movement.
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.
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