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Violin Sonata No 1 in D major, Op 12 No 1


Where Mozart led, Ludwig van Beethoven was never ashamed to follow. Attending a Viennese performance of Mozart’s C minor Piano Concerto, K491, in 1799 with the pianist Johann Cramer, he reportedly turned to his companion and exclaimed: 'Cramer! Cramer! We shall never be able to do anything like that.' Beethoven could have added that actually, he didn’t need to. The previous year, in the spring of 1798, he’d published three violin sonatas Op 12, which prove that he’d made a close study of Mozart’s. And at the head of the title page is the traditional heading 'Sonata for Pianoforte and Violin'.

Like Mozart, Beethoven still observes the 18th-century convention that the violin is accompanying the piano. What Mozart would have thought about Beethoven’s decision to dedicate his three sonatas to the still-influential Antonio Salieri, of course, is anyone’s guess—though given that Mozart actually admired Salieri (Amadeus is pure fiction), he’d probably have approved. Meanwhile, far from being constrained by Mozart’s model, Beethoven had given it Romantic wings. The idea of solo and accompaniment never sat entirely comfortably with a revolutionary age: Beethoven opens his sonata-form Allegro con brio ('with brilliance') with a bravura unison flourish before letting both instruments follow their nature: the violin to sing expressively, the piano supplying whirling, headlong semiquavers—and both then exchanging places.

The Andante con moto takes a winsome theme through four variations that let both instruments explore gloriously expressive and inward depths: this is Beethoven the dark-eyed, tousle-haired young poet whose solo appearances were such a hot ticket amongst the young ladies of Vienna’s more fashionable salons. And the jig-like finale plays subversive rhythmic games worthy (though Beethoven would never have conceded it) of Haydn himself. This, no doubt, was a contributing factor to the shocked review that these sonatas received from that critic in the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung: 'A striving for strange modulations … a heaping up of difficulties.'

Meanwhile Beethoven reported gleefully that Op 12 had gone into eight editions—and that publishers in Paris, London and four German cities were vying to print them. The musical public and the critics seem—not for the last time—to have disagreed.

from notes by Richard Bratby © 2020


Beethoven: Violin Sonatas Nos 1, 5 & 8
Studio Master: SIGCD618Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available


Movement 1: Allegro con brio
Movement 2: Tema con variazioni: Andante con moto
Movement 3: Rondo: Allegro

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