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8.550285 - BEETHOVEN: Violin Sonatas Opp. 23 and 96 / 12 Variations
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827)
Violin Sonata No.4 in A Minor, Op. 23
In 1792 Beethoven left his native city of Bonn to seek his fortune in the imperial capital, Vienna. Five years earlier his patron, the Archbishop of Cologne, a scion of the imperial family, had sent him to Vienna, where he had hoped to have lessons with Mozart. His plans were frustrated by the illness and subsequent death of his mother, which made it necessary to return to Bonn and before long to take charge of the welfare of his younger brothers. Beethoven's father, overshadowed by the eminence of his own father. Kapellmeister to a former Archbishop, had proved inadequate both as a musician and in the family, of which his son now took control.
As a boy Beethoven had been trained to continue family tradition as a musician and had followed his inadequate father and relatively distinguished grandfather as a member of the archiepiscopal musical establishment. In 1792 he arrived in Vienna with introductions to various members of the nobility and with the offer of lessons with Haydn, from whom he later claimed to have learned nothing. There were further lessons from the Court Composer, Antonio Salieri, and from Johann Georg Albrechtsberger, with violin lessons from Schuppanzigh and from the former Esterhazy violinist Wenzel Krumpholtz. His initial career as a keyboard virtuoso was one of some brilliance and he was to establish himself, in the course of time, as a figure of remarkable genius and originality, as a man no respecter of persons, his growing eccentricity all the greater for his increasing deafness. This last disability made public performance, whether as a keyboard-player or in the direction of his own music, increasingly difficult, and must have served to encourage the development of one particular facet of his music, stigmatised by hostile contemporary critics as "learned", the use of counterpoint. He died in Vienna in 1827.
The works that Beethoven wrote for violin and keyboard cover a period from about 1792 up to 1819, the period of the Hammerklavier Sonata, starting with a set of variations on an operatic air from Mozart and ending with a set of variations on national themes for flute or violin. The most significant part of this repertoire must be the ten sonatas which, although uneven in quality, represent a major contribution to the literature of the genre. Here Beethoven shows his ability to provide music that demands a partnership between the two players, no more piano sonatas with optional violin accompaniment, whatever the title-page of the earlier works may have suggested. As in the maturer work of Mozart, the violin is treated as an essential participant, a division of labour that has since been generally established. 1t is worth noticing that eight of the ten sonatas were written between 1797 and 1802.
The Sonata in A minor, Opus 23, was written in 1801 and published, together with the Sonata Opus 24, in the same year, with a dedication to the banker Count Moritz von Fries, a strong supporter of Beethoven, whom he continued to assist financially until his own bankruptcy in 1825. The first movement is one of particular brilliance, with a lilting second subject that finds a place for subtle contrapuntal pointing and a central development derived largely from the opening figure of the movement. Counterpoint has a more important role in the A major Andante scherzoso with its quirky opening section and stricter fugal imitation in w hat follows. The final Allegro molto allows the piano to state the principal subject, followed by the violin, repeated after the brief Adagio that closes the first intervening episode. A brief scherzo-like passage in A major and the return once more of the principal theme lead to a slow F major theme treated contrapuntally and in other ways. These elements re-appear in the concluding section of the sonata.
Beethoven wrote his Sonata in G major, Opus 96, in 1812 for his royal pupil Archduke Rudolph and the visiting French violinist Pierre Rode in a private performance at the end of December. The violin part was designed specifically for Rode, who, it seemed, disliked the customary Viennese finale with its necessary panache. The first movement opens hesitatingly, the opening figure repeated before the first subject is fully stated. The second subject ascends brightly, before a second half of descending triplets. After the central development the first subject returns even more hesitatingly to introduce the final recapitulation. A moving E flat major Adagio is succeeded by a capricious G minor Scherzo, framing an E flat major Trio that climbs to the heights, and ends in a brief G major coda. The last movement concession to Rode is marked Poco allegretto, its principal subject announced first by the piano, followed by the violin. This is on the whole a gentle movement, varied by the inclusion of an Adagio and written cadenzas for the two instruments leading to a false return of the main theme, the last true appearance of which is preceded by an interesting passage of contrapuntal imitation.
Mozart's opera Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) was first staged in 1786 and appeared in various published arrangements in the following years. There were revivals in Vienna in 1789 and 1790, but no performance in Vienna after Beethoven's arrival there until 1798. The opera, however, remained well known, its melodies available in a variety of versions. Beethoven seems to have completed his variations on Figaro's cynical 'Se vuol ballare, Signor Contino' (If you would dance, Sir Count) in 1793, although the work may have existed in some form or other before he moved to Vienna. From there he sent a copy to his friend Eleonore von Breuning, explaining how he has committed it to paper to prevent imitation by his rivals in Vienna and how the final trills in the coda present no insuperable difficulties, if other notes are left to the violin.
The theme itself is played pizzicato by the violin, followed by a first variation marked sempre dolce in which the piano takes the melody. The second variation starts with a semiquaver piano accompaniment with a staccato violin accompaniment to a piano variation. The running notes of the third version, marked sempre piano e legato, leads to a fourth opened by the descending scales of the piano, echoed by the violin. In the fifth a violin trill and descending piano scales are followed by a marked rhythmic figure from both instruments. The theme is then offered in F minor, the key also of the seventh variation, with the major key restored in the eighth, with its triplet accompaniment figuration. The ninth is for piano alone, leaving the violin to start the following melodic variation. The contrasts of dynamics and rhythm in the penultimate variation lead to a concluding twelfth version, with an accompanying Alberti bass and a violin statement of the theme that starts in double stopping. The coda, with its trill to challenge the technique of Eleonore von Breuning, has other surprises, and a brief element of contrapuntal imitation as it draws to a close.
Takako Nishizaki is one of the most frequently recorded violinists in the world today. She has recorded ten volumes of her complete Fritz Kreisler Edition, many contemporary Chinese violin concertos, among them the Concerto by Du Mingxin, dedicated to her, and a growing number of rare, previously unrecorded violin concertos, among them concertos by Spohr, Bériot, Cui, Respighi, Rubinstein and Joachim. For Naxos she has recorded Vivaldi's Four Seasons, Mozart's Violin Concertos, Sonatas by Mozart and Beethoven and the Bach, Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Bruch and Brahms Concertos.
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