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Ludwig van Beethoven
The Complete Works for Piano and Cello
Elliott Antokoletz, Ph.D.
Professor of Musicology, University of Texas at Austin
Beethoven's cycle of five sonatas for cello and piano represents an historical landmark not only in the development of the classical sonata, but also of the cello and its relation to the piano in this genre. A study of Beethoven's creative evolution through these sonatas and other works for the same instrumental combination permits us, no less than the cycle of thirty-two piano sonatas or sixteen string quartets, to enter the world of the "total" Beethoven. In 1852, von Lenz published his analysis of Beethoven's piano sonatas, in which he outlined the three style periods—early, middle, and late—that we commonly use today. However, the less common stylistic subdivisions by Prod'homme and Hess into five periods—student (1782-1794), virtuoso (1795-1800), appassionata (1801-1808), invasion (1809-1814), and sublimation (1815-1826)—reveal a more direct correlation between Beethoven's cello-piano works and critical moments of change in his style.
The earliest prominent examples of cello sonatas were composed by French and Italian composers in the middle of the eighteenth century. Martin Berteau (d. 1771), founder of the French school of cello playing, was the teacher of Jean Pierre Duport (d. 1818), who came into the service of Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia in 1773 at the Berlin Court, his brother Jean Louis Duport, also a cellist-composer, arriving at the Court in 1789. Friedrich Wilhelm himself was a cellist for whom Mozart and Haydn had written their "Prussian" Quartets. It was for Friedrich Wilhelm that Beethoven wrote his first two Sonatas for Cello and Piano-Op. 5, No. 1 in F major and No. 2 in G minor—at the Berlin Court in 1796 (published 1797 in Vienna). In the first performance of these sonatas at the Court, Beethoven himself played the piano part with Jean Louis Duport. Beethoven also wrote two sets of variations for cello and piano at this time, including "Twelve Variations on see the conqu'ring hero comes' from Judas Maccabaus von Handel," WoO 45 (published 1797 in Vienna) and "Twelve Variations on: ‘Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen' from Die Zauberflöte, by Mozart," Op. 66 (published 1798 in Vienna), both dedicated to Princess Christiane von Lichnowsky.
It is unlikely that the practical demands at Friedrich Wilhelm's Court would have been the primary factor in motivating Beethoven toward an innovative approach to the genre, since internal as well as external artistic forces always seem to have guided the composer's personal creativity. Beethoven came to Vienna from Bonn in 1792 at a time when the classical forms had become fully standardized, but still contained the potential for further structural and expressive development. In these Op. 5 sonatas, Beethoven was already revealing his new artistic conception in form, theme, phrase, harmonic language, and instrumental sonority, in contexts of more definite mood contrasts. Both sonatas are in two movements each, not so unusual if we consider the outline of many eighteenth-century divertimenti. In each sonata, a slow introduction and sonata-allegro format is followed by a rondo. What is particularly striking about the G-minor sonata, one of Beethoven's earliest expressions of the "sturm und drang" spirit, is the broader, slower-paced phrasing, which allows time for the cello to reveal its lyrical potential in the tenor register. The .., more expressive second-theme is expanded to four times the length of the first theme, this shift in weight from first-to second-theme foreshadowing the changing structural balance characteristic of many nineteenth-century sonatas. The innovative use of a second development section between recapitulation and co9a further contributes to the expanded means of expression in the G-minor sonata.
Beethoven wrote his Sonata for Cello and Piano, Op. 69 in A Major, during an unhappy time in his life. His unsuccessful love affairs of these years (1807-1808) seem to have played some role in the change from the more heroic, passionate qualities of his "sturm und drang" works to the more introspective mood of the Sonata and String Quartet, Op. 74 ("Harp"). Shortly after publication of the Sonata in Leipzig in 1809, Beethoven wrote the words "Inter lacrymas et luctum" (amid sorrow and tears) under the dedication to Baron Ignaz von Gleichenstein. It was also in 1809 that the final Napoleonic bombings of Vienna took place, which made Beethoven fear that his hearing loss would be worsened. Not until 1812 did the Op. 69 receive its first performance by Czerny and Linke at a Schuppanzigh Concert, two years after the truce and French occupation of Vienna.
Op. 69 reveals a decisive move toward structuralization, heightened expressive content, and expanded instrumental sonority. Like the String Quartet, Op. 59, No. 1 ("Razumovsky"), its four-movement plan employs a scherzo and Adagio as the two middle movements, and shows a concern beyond the earlier two Op. 5 sonatas for a new breadth and clarity of the classical structure. It is in the Op. 69 that the cello becomes a truly equal partner with the piano for the first time. Juxtaposition of the individual instrumental sonorities contributes to the sense of phrasal contrast and balance within the larger theme groups of the first movement, but the balanced phrases themselves are greatly expanded to permit time for the new sonic qualities to develop. The exploitation of the unaccompanied cello's deepest registers at the opening of the main theme, followed by that instrument's move to its highest registers, reveals Beethoven's new approach to instrumental sonority. In the bridge, the piano's triplets accompany a new motive in A minor, which leads to the secondary theme comprised of many contrasting subsidiary ideas in the dominant. Here, piano and cello continue in balanced alterations between thematic material and accompanying figurations. Extreme mood contrasts are produced by major- minor key juxtapositions and abrupt changes of dynamics. For instance, in the vigorous development section, fortissimo outbursts eventually subside to pianissimo in the retransition on first-theme material, and modulations through F# minor and D major to the tonic key of A major produce a smooth retransition into the recapitulation. The coda reasserts the main theme in pianissimo unison, then fortissimo unison.
The autograph of the first movement of Op. 69, which provides crucial evidence for the historical importance of this sonata in the evolution of the genre, is one of the few complete manuscript sources of Beethoven available in facsimile. According to Dr. Lewis Lockwood of Harvard University, "the solutions found in Op. 69 for the problems of range, relative sonority, and matching of importance of the two instruments in the entire texture emerge as an achievement equal to that inherent in the originality and quality of its purely musical ideas." Extensive changes in the development section, including the superimposition of several compositional stages, "reveal nothing less than the total recasting of the roles of Vol and Pfte throughout the section." [At the time of its release] This is the only recording utilizing the autograph manuscript.
The last two Sonatas for Cello and Piano—Op. 102, No. 1 in C Major and No. 2 in 0 Major—composed in 1815 for Countess Erdödy (published 1817 in Bonn), coincides with the beginning of Beethoven's last period, during the convening of the Congress of Vienna after the defeat of Napoleon. These two sonatas, composed just before the last five piano sonatas (1816-1821), foreshadow the late quartets (1824-1826) in their sense of lyrical improvisation, which points to a greater concern now for the emotional and spiritual essence rather than the rigors of the proportional classical structure of Op. 69.
The Op. 102 sonatas reveal two entirely different forms. The first in C-major harks back to the two-movement plan of the Op. 5, but a slow introduction also appears before the second movement, which contributes to the sense of flexibility and contrast of mood. We may attribute this sense of freedom to Beethoven's increasing isolation from the world, as his deafness entered its final stage. The second sonata in D major has three movements, fast-slow-fast. The last movement is a fugato, which, in this genre, represents a new expressive element infused into the traditional structure. The flexibility of the fugato, based on shifting keys, unexpected dynamic changes, and registral shifts, foreshadows the fugue of the Sonata, Op. 106 ("Hammerklavier"), and Grosse fuga Op. 133. Flexibility draws attention away from the traditional structure toward the personal and expressive. Following the opening sonata-allegro movement, which contains disjunct instrumental leaps, frequent key shifts, and the gradual replacement of the lyrical by the dynamic, the central Adagio provides one of Beethoven's most profound expressions. Solemnity gives way to a religious mood, which moves from minor to major. A chorale is then followed by the return to minor. The final lyrical statements of the two instruments dissipate in decrescendo, before an unresolved cadential dominant leads the cello into the fugato.
Thus one need not turn primarily to the piano sonatas or string quartets to demonstrate Beethoven's stylistic changes. His evolution toward increasing structuralization, flexibility of form, richer harmonic language, expanded instrumental sonority, and a more profound personal expression is reflected in these remarkable works for cello and piano.
Paul Olefsky and Walter Hautzig have known each other for a long time, over forty years. More importantly, they have played together many times in the past. Starting with their first days at the famous Curtis Institute of Music, where they loved playing chamber music during their leisure hours, they have continued their association down through the years to the present. Although both have distinguished solo careers, whenever their paths cross they sit down and play sonatas together. A number of years ago they were asked to record the sonatas of Brahms, Schubert, and Grieg. The New York Times called their playing "a model of chamber music playing." They became the first musicians in New York to play all of Beethoven's sonatas for cello and piano at one sitting during the 200th anniversary of the composer's birth. Again the New York Times: "The skills and musicianship of both equip them thoroughly for such high-minded artistic undertaking." The Baltimore Sun said, "Theirs is an approach distinguished and aristocratic in conception, and lucid in proportions in which emphasis is placed on aspects of instant and individual communication."