Movement 1: Allegro con brio
Movement 2: Adagio con molto sentimento d'affetto
Movement 3: Allegro – Allegro fugato
What comes next is unique in many respects. The second movement, Adagio con molto sentimento d’affetto, is the only independent slow movement in the whole cycle of sonatas. In the years around 1800 it was widely thought that it was difficult for the cello to hold its own against the fortepiano in cantilena, and that it was preferable to write short rhythmic phrases for the instrument in the interests of better balance. This prejudice was still discernible in the time of Mendelssohn, and was frequently taken into account in contemporary compositions. Beethoven, by contrast, was the first to attempt the creation of a new kind of slow movement, freed from any instrumental limitations. The dematerialization of musical language ascribed to Beethoven’s late works achieves its consummation in this movement; here is music of incomparably sad beauty. The opening bars, which move between a rising third and falling seconds in D minor, immediately convey an impression of mysterious, contemplative peace. For me, the instrumental effect of this quaver movement in the cello can only be compared with the Sarabande from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cello Suite No 5, which in its simplicity generates similar universal, visionary strength. By contrast, the espressivo theme stated by the piano and subsequently taken over by the cello, with its hemidemisemiquavers and demisemiquavers, conjures up a sombre, threatening side to the movement. Only in the middle section in the major does the mood brighten as the two instruments find unaccustomed harmony with one another. This is a passage of particular purity, which almost seems to anticipate the Romantic impetus of such composers as Schubert.
At the end of the movement the two instruments pause intently: a passage of quasi-numbness slows down the pulse, and two rising scales tentatively prepare the start of the finale, Allegro fugato. In this movement too we encounter something entirely new and unprecedented in the history of the sonata—after the short introduction, the quaver figures we have just heard, extremely terse in both melody and rhythm, form the nucleus of the fugue subject. These polyphonic tags are presented by both instruments, varied in sequence, and intensified in dynamics until they reach positively orchestral heights. One is reminded of the massive architecture of Beethoven’s ‘Hammerklavier’ Sonata, completed three years later. Only in the middle of the movement does Beethoven allow the listener a brief moment of tranquillity through the introduction of a new theme before the sharply profiled quaver runs of the fugue subject recommence their powerful evolution. Here the music reaches its final climax, marked fortissimo and sempre fortissimo. Massive hemiolic phrases round off the movement, and Beethoven’s entire output of cello sonatas, with inexorable rustic strength. The new-found significance of polyphony for the composer was seldom more perceptible than here. However, it is hardly surprising that the forward-looking and introverted rhetoric of Beethoven’s final cello sonatas was understood and appreciated only years later.
from notes by Daniel Müller-Schott © 2010
English: Charles Johnston