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8.555787 - BEETHOVEN: Cello Sonatas Nos. 4 and 5, Op. 102
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Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Works for Cello and Piano, Vol. 3

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.

Beethoven’s first two cello sonatas were written on the occasion of his visit in 1796 to the Prussian court at Potsdam. He played them there with the cellist Jean- Pierre Duport, teacher of the cello-playing King Friedrich Wilhelm II, nephew of Frederick the Great. 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. The Handel variations were dedicated to Princess Lichnowsky. The cello offers an accompaniment to the theme and the piano continues alone with the first variation. The second has triplet figuration in the piano part, duly proceeding to semiquavers in the third. The fourth variation is in G minor, returning to the major in the dialogue of the fifth. The quaver figuration of the sixth variation gives way to cello triplet figuration in the seventh, followed by an eighth version in G minor, providing scales for both players. The interrupted progress of the following variation leads to a tenth version marked Allegro and allowing the cello the original melody. Custom is followed in an elaborately ornamented Adagio, leading to a final 3/8 Allegro.

The Duet for viola and cello, WoO 32, belongs to this early period of Beethoven’s life in Vienna and was written for his friend Nikolaus Zmeskall von Domanovecz, a competent amateur cellist and a modest composer, an official of the Royal Hungarian Court Chancellery, the weakness of whose eyes brought a joke from Beethoven, and, presumably, the Duett mit zwei Augengläsern (Duet with Two Eyeglasses), seemingly enclosed with a letter of 1798 to Zmeskall. The work opens with a melody for the viola, taken up by the cello in a sonata-form movement. Beethoven seems to have intended a slow movement, which was never written, but the following Minuet, with its B flat major Trio, provides a contrast to the more substantial first movement.

In 1808 Beethoven wrote a third cello sonata, dedicated to his 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.

The last two cello sonatas of Beethoven belong in inspiration to his final creative period. Written in 1815, they were published in 1817 and finally dedicated to Countess Maria von Erdödy, a woman whose patience Beethoven had tried sorely enough, in spite of her efforts to help him. There had been an earlier dedication to the visiting English pianist and cellist Charles Neate, a pupil of John Field, when it seemed possible that there might be an English edition of the two sonatas. The Sonata in C major, Op.102, No.1, written towards the end of July, was first performed the following year by the cellist of Prince Razumovsky’s quartet, Joseph Linke, lodged with the Erdödys after the destruction of Razumovsky’s palace and the disbandment of his quartet, and the pianist Carl Czerny. It is in two parallel parts, the second slow-fast sequence balancing the first. A tranquilly meditative Andante, introduced by the cello alone leads to an Allegro vivace in the unexpected key of A minor, with an E minor second subject and a very short central development. There is a contemplative air about the Adagio, leading to an Andante reference to the opening of the sonata and the tentative opening of the final Allegro vivace, the headlong course of which is interrupted by a low E flat from the cello, to which a fifth is then added. The piano adds its comment and the movement proceeds, with opportunities for counterpoint duly explored, again interrupted, in recapitulation, now by a low A flat from the cello, before the final section of the movement.

The Sonata in D major, Op. 102, No. 2, written in August 1815, opens in full vigour with a rhythmic figure for the piano, later taken up by the cello. This returns as a useful element in the central development, together with a snatch of the transition to the more lyrical second subject in the exposition. The second movement is a D minor Adagio, framing a serene D major central section. The last movement is introduced hesitantly, a device used elsewhere by Beethoven, not least in the companion sonata. The cello then announces a fugal subject, answered by the left hand of the pianist, followed by the third voice at a higher register of the keyboard. As in the other sonatas, the sound of the cello is never obscured by the piano texture, which is here characteristic in its counterpoint of the final period of Beethoven’s work, exploring the extreme range of the newly developing keyboard instrument. The music again has elements of the unexpected, interrupted by the appearance of a brief second subject, accorded its own contrapuntal treatment.

Keith Anderson

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