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Hyperion Records

CDD22004 - Beethoven: Complete Cello Music
View of Salzburg with Kapuzinerberg by Johann Fischbach (1797-1871)
Residenz Galerie, Salzburg
(Originally issued on CDA66281, CDA66282)

Recording details: Various dates
Seldon Hall, Haberdashers' Aske's School, Hertfordshire, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Antony Howell
Release date: September 1996
DISCID: 6510E808 A310010C
Total duration: 143 minutes 9 seconds

'An attractive issue for anyone wanting period versions' (The Penguin Guide to Compact Discs)

Complete Cello Music
Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Beethoven’s works for the combination of cello and piano span much of his compositional career, and each of his three recognized stylistic periods is represented by a Sonata, or pair of Sonatas. With these historic works it is fair to say Beethoven created a new instrumental form. Earlier works do exist for a duo of cello and keyboard instrument, such as the sonatas written by Anton Kraft (1749-1820) in the years immediately preceding Beethoven’s Op 5, but the accompaniment is of the Baroque continuo type rather than Beethoven’s concept of the two instruments as equal partners – or at least as equal as the instruments of his time would allow. At the time the Op 5 and Op 69 Sonatas were written the piano still had a fairly lightweight tone and limited sustaining power. Beethoven thus had to forego the exploitation of the cello’s capacity for cantabile playing and the writing of true slow movements (he allows himself slow introductions to some of the movements) until the very last Sonata, for fear of overpowering the piano.

The two Sonatas of Op 5 were written in 1796 while Beethoven was in Berlin. He had travelled from Vienna to Prague in February of that year with the intention of returning to Vienna within a few weeks. But, as he wrote to his brother Nikolaus, he was ‘getting on well – very well. My art is winning for me friends and respect’. This success led him to extend his tour, continuing by way of Dresden and Leipzig to Berlin, where he arrived in May. In later years Beethoven recalled his stay there fondly, as recorded by his pupil Ferdinand Ries:

At the court of King Frederic Wilhelm II he played the two grand sonatas with obbligato violoncello, Op 5, written for [Jean-Pierre] Duport, the King’s first violoncellist, and himself. On his departure he received a gold snuff-box filled with louis d’ors. Beethoven declared with pride that it was not an ordinary snuff-box, but one that it might have been customary to give to an ambassador.

The King, like his uncle Frederick the Great, was a cultivated musician, a cellist for whom Mozart had composed his ‘Prussian’ String Quartets only six years earlier. His influence on the musical life of Berlin was powerful, encouraging the performance of operas by Gluck and Mozart, among other pioneering work, and it seems possible that he offered Beethoven the vacant position of Kapellmeister on the basis of the Cello Sonatas dedicated to him. But the King died the following year, before he could persuade Beethoven, who had anyway since returned to Vienna. Beethoven performed the Sonatas for the first time in Vienna early in 1797 at a concert given with the cellist Bernhard Romberg, a former colleague from the Bonn court orchestra who was passing through the Austrian capital on his way north from Italy. By this time, Beethoven had prepared the sonatas for publication; they were advertised by the firm of Artaria in the Wiener Zeitung in February 1797.

The F major Sonata, Op 5 No 1, has only two movements, though both are quite substantial, the first introduced by an Adagio sostenuto that is almost a movement in its own right. It gradually unfolds from arpeggios on the common chord of F major, an idea that is also present in the first subject of the main Allegro, a dolce melody on the piano that is soon repeated on the cello. An extensive bridge passage, dominated by off-beat accents, leads to the fragmentary second subject group in the dominant: semiquaver scales run into a staccato passage on the piano alone before the cello enters with a more melodic idea and the codetta makes way for the wide-ranging development section. The recapitulation is a straightforward restatement of the opening section, but the coda is extended by the interpolation of a short Adagio passage (unrelated to the introduction) and a similarly brief Presto section of dominant preparation to the concluding affirmation of F major. The second and final movement is a rondo in 6/8 time with a main theme that makes much play out of a rhythmic displacement between the two instruments.

The second Sonata of Op 5 was the subject of an amusing incident in the spring of 1799. Domenico Dragonetti, as legend has it the greatest double bass player in history, was passing through Vienna on his way from Venice to London. He soon met Beethoven, as an English friend, Samuel Appleby, recalled:

Beethoven had been told that his new friend could execute violoncello music upon his huge instrument, and one morning, when Dragonetti called at his room, he expressed his desire to hear a sonata. The contrabass was sent for, and the Sonata, No 2 of Op 5, was selected. Beethoven played his part, with his eyes immovably fixed upon his companion, and, in the finale, where the arpeggios occur, was so delighted and excited that at the close he sprang up and threw his arms around both player and instrument.

Like the First Sonata the G minor work has a slow introduction, which here is even more expansive, amounting to an expressive and often dramatic fantasia. The first Allegro is an example of Beethoven’s predilection for including a wide range of diverse material within one movement. The restrained opening theme is soon interrupted by a forte idea accompanied by pounding quaver triplets which are only brought to a halt with the lead-in to the more song-like second subject. The finale is again a rondo, this time in 2/4 time and in G major, with a variety of lively rhythmic patterning and much rapid figuration in demi-semiquavers, culminating in a hectic coda.

The single Sonata of Op 69 was sketched in 1807, some ten years after the Op 5 pair and concurrently with the Fifth Symphony (Op 67). It was completed in the spring of 1808 in Heiligenstadt and contracted to the publishers Breitkopf & Härtel in September, who issued it the following April in an edition full of printer’s errors. The dedication of the Sonata was to Count Ignaz von Gleichenstein, a Secretary at the War Department and a trusted friend of the composer. It had been performed for the first time a month earlier, in March 1809, by the cellist Nikolaus Kraft (the son of Anton Kraft and a member of Schuppanzigh’s famous string quartet) and Baroness Dorothea von Ertmann, one of the greatest of the first generation of Beethoven pianists.

The lyrical A major world of this third Sonata conveys as well as any other work of the period the self-confident mood that Beethoven was in during the latter half of the first decade of the nineteenth century, before his life was disrupted by the French invasion of Vienna in the middle of 1809. The first movement opens rather like the slightly earlier Fourth Piano Concerto (1806) with, in this case, the cello entering softly and unaccompanied with a theme that gradually builds to a short piano flourish, repeated with the roles reversed. A vigorous bridge passage leads to the second subject, a combination of rising scales and downward arpeggios, again repeated with the instrumental roles inverted. The triplets of the bridge return with the codetta to the exposition which is dominated by an attractive idea new to the movement. The development concentrates on the music of the first subject which in a foreshortened form eventually opens the recapitulation, before reappearing at the end of the movement. There follows the only Scherzo of these Sonatas and it is typical of the form as Beethoven developed it during his ‘middle period’ works, with its length approaching that of the outer movements, achieved by repeating the almost waltz-like ‘trio’ between three statements of the syncopated main scherzo theme. The slow introduction to the finale is shorter than those to the first movements of the two earlier sonatas, with more of a cantabile continuity to it. The Allegro vivace recalls the opening of the first ‘Rasumovsky’ String Quartet in both the configuration of its opening theme and in its sunny mood which continues into the restrained second subject where cello and piano alternate short phrases.

The two Sonatas of Op 102, which can perhaps be regarded as the first works of Beethoven’s so-called ‘late’ period, were composed in 1815, the first completed, according to the wording on the manuscript, ‘towards the end of July’, and the second at the ‘beginning of August’. The inspiration behind them came from the cellist Josef Linke, another of Beethoven’s devoted musicians. Linke was a member of the house string quartet of Prince Rasumovsky, the former Russian Ambassador in Vienna, when at the end of December 1814 the Prince’s palace, laid out for an enormous royal banquet, burned to the ground. The quartet had to be disbanded and Linke was taken on by the Erdödys – Countess Anne Marie (to whom the Op 102 Sonatas are dedicated) and Count Peter, with whom he spent the summer at their retreat in Jedlersee am Marchfelde, east of Vienna. Beethoven, an affectionate friend of the couple, took every opportunity to escape from the city to visit them and his favourite cellist. A letter from Beethoven to the Countess, promising to visit her at Jedlersee, makes play on Linke’s name (meaning ‘left’ in German):

Let the violoncello apply himself, starting on the left bank of the Danube he is to play until everyone has crossed from the right bank of the Danube. What’s more, I am confident of the route over the Danube I have already set; with courage one may gain any objective if righteous.

The C major Sonata, despite the development by this stage of a piano closer to the more sonorous instrument of today, again eschews a full slow movement, but Beethoven this time preludes each of the two movements with a slow introduction. Of these the Andante is the more substantial, opening, rather in the manner of Op 69, with the cello alone, followed by a complementary phrase on the piano, both extended gently and rhapsodically until interrupted by the fortissimo arrival of the first Allegro vivace, which is actually in A minor. The argument is far more concentrated than in the earlier sonatas – Beethoven had by now moved away from the expansiveness of his middle period. The second movement opens with a short improvisatory Adagio which, before making way for the main part of the movement, allows a brief recall of the first movement’s Andante material. The finale proper is a terse sonata-form movement dominated by the short rising figure of the first few bars (perhaps derived from the theme of the Andante) and rapid semiquaver movement. But twice this movement is interrupted by pauses and still, open fifths on cello. At the end the tension winds down before the tempo is picked up again for the last couple of bars.

The first movement of the D major Sonata shows evidence of the new possibilities available in the cello writing with a singing, dolce first subject. Despite the Adagio being the first real slow movement of these Sonatas, the main melody is a rather restrained affair, with short rests at the end of each two-bar phrase – the smoother melodic writing is reserved for the middle section of the ABA structure. The finale follows without a break, though not before tentative attempts at the main subject forestall the arrival of the movement proper – a fully-fledged fugue. In fact this is the first occasion where Beethoven uses a fugue as the basis of a movement (instead of merely incorporating fugal writing into another form), and is thus also the first example of the contrapuntal thinking that was to dominate his final years.

The sets of variations on an air from Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus and on Mozart’s ‘Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen’ date from the time of the Op 5 Sonatas. The Handel theme was probably suggested to Beethoven by Baron Gottfried von Swieten, an important promoter of Bach’s and Handel’s music in Vienna who, in the words of the eighteenth-century music historian Johann Ferdinand von Schönfeld, was ‘looked upon as a patriarch of music. His taste is only for the high and great. When he attends a concert our dilettantes never take their eyes off him, attempting to read in his features, not always intelligible to everyone, what their opinion of the music ought to be. Every year he gives a few large and splendid concerts containing only music of the old masters. His preference is for the Handelian manner, and he generally has some of Handel’s great choruses performed.’

But Beethoven needed little persuasion to look back to Handel for inspiration, nor to Mozart for that matter. As Ries noted, ‘Beethoven valued Mozart and Handel most highly, then S Bach. Whenever I found him with music in his hand or lying on his desk, it was inevitably compositions by these heroes.’

The twelve Handel variations, reflecting the manner of the stately theme, find Beethoven in a particularly formal mood. The foursquare nature of the theme (Allegretto) is maintained right up to the tenth variation which comes full circle with an Allegro statement of the original melody. The final two variations are a rhapsodic Adagio, where the theme is disguised further than anywhere else in the work, and a jovial 3/8, Allegro finale.

With the Op 66 Mozart variations Beethoven’s treatment is notably more relaxed with, in particular, a greater flexibility in the use of the instruments. The staccato presentation of the Allegretto theme reminds the listener that in its original context Mozart composed it for the strumento di acciaio (‘instrument of steel’, probably a glockenspiel). The cello is silent in the first variation but plays a full contrapuntal part in the second. In the third it is almost static, leaving the fast figuration to the piano. The next six variations explore a wide variety of textures and modes of treatment of the theme. As in the Handel variations the tenth variation is an Adagio, while the penultimate is here an expressive movement marked Poco adagio, quasi Andante, leading straight into the triple-time, Allegro, final variation.

The second set of Mozart variations, WoO46, was written roughly half way between the Op 5 and Op 69 Sonatas, in 1801. At the beginning of that year Schikaneder’s production of Die Zauberflöte at the new Theater an der Wien (later to see the première of Beethoven’s Fidelio) made the opera ‘the subject of common gossip’ and most likely inspired Beethoven’s seven variations on the duet ‘Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen’. The phrases of the Andante theme are shared between the two instruments, a practice which continues through the first four variations, where the tempo of the theme is maintained but the note-lengths are shortened. The tempo quickens for the playful fifth variation, but slows to an Adagio for the rhapsodic sixth. The final variation, Allegro, ma non troppo, is followed by an extensive coda which introduces a new theme in C minor, and after a continual tendency towards a pianissimo, the fortissimo end comes almost as a surprise.

Matthew Rye © 1996

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