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8.555786 - BEETHOVEN: Cello Sonatas No. 3, Op. 69 and Op. 64
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Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Works for Cello and Piano, Vol. 2

Born in Bonn in 1770, Ludwig van Beethoven was the eldest son of a singer in the musical establishment of the Archbishop-Elector of Cologne and grandson of the Archbishop’s former Kapellmeister, whose name he took. The household was not a happy one. Beethoven’s father became increasingly inadequate both as a singer and as a father and husband, with his wife always ready to draw invidious comparisons between him and his own father. Beethoven, however, was trained as a musician, however erratically, and duly entered the service of the Archbishop, serving as an organist and as a string-player in the archiepiscopal orchestra. He was already winning some distinction in Bonn when, in 1787, he was first sent to Vienna to study with Mozart. The illness of his mother forced an early return from this venture and her subsequent death left him with responsibility for his younger brothers, in view of his father’s domestic and professional failures. In 1792 Beethoven was sent once more to Vienna, now to study with Haydn, whom he had met in Bonn.

Beethoven’s early career in Vienna was helped very considerably by the circumstances of his move there. The Archbishop was a son of the Empress Maria Theresa and there were introductions to leading members of society in the imperial capital. Here Beethoven was able to establish an early position for himself as a pianist of remarkable ability, coupled with a clear genius in the necessarily related arts of improvisation and composition. The onset of deafness at the turn of the century seemed an irony of Fate. It led Beethoven gradually away from a career as a virtuoso performer and into an area of composition where he was able to make remarkable changes and extensions of existing practice. Deafness tended to accentuate his eccentricities and paranoia, which became extreme as time went on. At the same time it allowed him to develop his gifts for counterpoint. He continued to revolutionise forms inherited from his predecessors, notably Haydn and Mozart, expanding these almost to bursting-point, and introducing innovation after innovation as he grew older. He died in 1827, his death the occasion of public mourning in Vienna.

In 1796 Beethoven had set out on a concert tour, following a route similar to that taken less profitably by Mozart in 1789, passing through Prague, Dresden and Leipzig on the way to Berlin. Court concerts at Potsdam since 1787 had been in the hands of the cellist Jean-Pierre Duport, teacher to the cello-playing Friedrich Wilhelm II, nephew of Frederick the Great. It was presumably with Duport that Beethoven played there his two new cello sonatas, to be rewarded by the King with a golden snuff-box filled with Louis d’or. The sonatas were published in 1797 as Opus 5 with a dedication to the King. The same period gave rise to two sets of variations for cello and piano, one on a theme from Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus and the other on a theme from Mozart’s opera of 1791, Die Zauberflöte. These were published in Vienna in 1797 and 1798 respectively. Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen

(A girl or a little wife) is sung by Papageno, a rôle originally taken by the actor-manager Emanuel Schikaneder, author of the text. The peasant bird-catcher, unworthy of the enlightenment that will come to Prince Tamino after his initiation, has one wish, for a wife. The melody itself has an older history, whether as a chorale or as a folk-song, and is here treated with the expected facility in a form with which Beethoven was now very familiar.

There has been argument over the dating of Beethoven’s String Trio, Opus 3, seemingly written before 1794, if not in Bonn before 1792 as was once suggested. Wegeler, in his reminiscences of the composer in 1838, dates it to 1795, suggesting that it resulted from a commission for a string quartet. The work was published in Vienna in 1796 and Beethoven began to sketch out a piano trio version. The Sonata in E flat major for cello and piano, for which Beethoven or his publisher seems to have reserved the opus number 64, has brought further controversy. An effective arrangement of the String Trio, the sonata was first published by Artaria in Vienna in 1807, but its authenticity has been widely questioned. The Artaria title-page makes the claimed provenance clear: Grande Sonata pour le Forte-Piano avec accompt. de Violoncelle obbligé (tiré du grand Trio pour le Violon Oeuv.3me), par Louis van Beethoven No. 64) (Grand Sonata for the Forte-Piano with accompaniment of Cello obbligato (drawn from the Grand Trio for Strings, Opus 3) by Louis van Beethoven No. 64), without going so far as to suggest specifically that the arrangement was made by the composer himself. In its number of movements, the sonata proclaims its divertimento origins. The opening Allegro con brio is in sonata-allegro form, followed by an F major Andante in similar structure. The first of the two Minuets has an A flat major Trio, and is followed by an Adagio in the latter key. The original key of E flat major is restored in the second Minuet, with its C minor Trio, and the sonata ends with a rondo, its main theme framing contrasting episodes. The skill of the arrangement argues, at the very least, the approval of the composer for a work that was published under his nose.

The Sonata in A major, Opus 69, was written in 1808 and dedicated to Beethoven’s intimate friend Baron Ignaz von Gleichenstein, an amateur cellist, who helped the composer in business matters, arranging his pension from a group of rich patrons in 1809 and joining with him in the courtship of the sisters Anna and Therese Malfatti, the first of whom married Gleichenstein in 1811, bringing his close friendship with Beethoven to an end. On the autograph of the sonata Beethoven wrote the words Inter lacrymas et luctus (Amid tears and sorrows), but there is little sign of this in the music. The cello opens the first movement, in its lower register, sustaining the dominant of the key to anchor the piano’s response. Rôles are reversed, before the introduction of a second subject, shared by the two instruments. This material is developed in a central section, before the return of the first theme in recapitulation, played by the cello, with a running triplet piano accompaniment. The second movement is in the form of an A minor Scherzo, repeated to frame an A major Trio, with its opening cello double-stopping and lower register piano accompanying figuration. As in some of the piano sonatas, there is no full slow movement, but a brief E major Adagio, which leads directly to a final Allegro vivace, dominated by the first subject announced by the cello, which later introduces a contrasting second subject. It is the first that forms the substance of the central development and the closing section of the sonata.

Keith Anderson

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