"Art makes life, makes interest, makes importance"

July 15, 2011

Listening to the complete Beethoven (2)

Op 12 consists of the first three violin sonatas (in D, A and Es), dating from 1798. They were dedicated to Salieri and became very popular, being often arranged for other instruments. The first movement of Sonata 1 is full of invention and contrasts. The sonata ends with a captivating rondo. The second sonata is witty and simple and has a very relaxed finale. The third sonata possesses an expansive first movement with a brilliant piano part and especially shines in the poetic adagio.

Op 13 is the Pathetique Sonata in c minor from 1799 (Piano Sonata No. 8), the first work in this list that sounds utterly familiar - when you have listened to Beethoven for a long time, like me. The experiments in piano playing here pay off, it a most solid achievement, from the dramatic grave introduction and orchestral texture of the ensuing allegro, to the deceptively simple adagio cantabile and finally the straightforward rondo that recaptures the drama that went before in the sforzando chords of the coda. "Pathetique" means "suffering" and this was the period that Beethoven for the first time learned about his oncoming deafness although at the time he was happily settled in Vienna.

Op 14 consists of two more piano sonatas from 1799, both in three movements. Piano sonata No 9 in E has a lyrical character and is modest in comparison with Op. 13. The second movement is a menuet. The tenth sonata in G is another soothingly lyrical endeavor. The last movement is a pastoral scherzo.That is not to say these sonatas are simplistic, on the contrary, Beethoven as usual plays with meter and rhythm and indulges in sudden contrasts.

With Op 15 and the Piano Concerto No 1 in C (first performed in 1798, although written in the years before that) the orchestra makes its first entry in our opus list. It is joyful work, true to its key of C major. After a singing largo, the concert closes with a dancing - even swinging -  rondo. A suitable vehicle for Beethoven's own bravura.

Op 16 is the Quintet for Piano and Winds in Es (1796). The violent contrasts and emotional directness again characterize it as typically Beethoven, although it is in the first place full of charm, a last echo from the 18th c. It ends with a spirited, jesting rondo.

The Op 17 Horn Sonata (1800) in F was written for the famous horn player Giovanni Punto. It fully explores the chromatic range of the instrument and is also full of good humor and warmth.

Op 18 consists of the first six string quartets (1800) dedicated to prince Lobkowitz.
No 1 in F - what a powerful and dynamic work! What a beautiful lyrical second movement! I thought I knew something about the string quartets of Beethoven, but this quartet sounded like new to me. I immediately played it again.
In contrast, No 2 in G has a jovial character, "as if making compliments," it was said in the 19th c. Its atmosphere is that of an 18th c entertainment.
No 3 in D was in fact the first quartet Beethoven wrote of this series. Beethoven's signature is again evident in the dynamic contrasts, the harmonic modulations, the contrast between broad melodies and short motives, between humor and drama.
No 4 in c minor is almost orchestral, with clusters of secondary voices. There is no adagio, the second movement is a scherzo and the third a minuet. The finale is a cheerful presto.
No 5 in A pays tribute to Mozart's K464, also in A Major, for example by having a minuet in the second position.The slow movement is a theme and variations.
No 6 in B Flat starts with a dance-like allegro, then follows a solemn adagio, a rhythmical scherzo and finally a delicate finale called "La Malinconia" (Melancholy) by Beethoven himself. The melancholy melody is in the introductory adagio, but returns a few times, until it is chased away by a vigorous prestissimo.

Op 19, the Piano Concerto No 2 in B Flat (1796), was written earlier than the Concerto no 1 and was a concerto with which Beethoven kept tinkering during the 90s. because it cost Beethoven such a lot of trouble, it is usually considered as less inspiring than the first concerto, but I found it very pleasant music.

Op 20 Septet in E Flat (1799). A confident and cheerful work that became so popular that Beethoven himself started to dislike it. Fresh and exuberant, the septet is more substantial than 18th c. serenade music and became a model for similar works in the 19th c.

Op 21 Symphony No 1 (1800) was composed in the up-to-date manner of Haydn's London symphonies. The first movement is an allegro con brio. This followed by a tuneful and charming (but not very profound) andante, and a minuet. The finale starts on an original note, with a slow introduction, after which a carefree theme emerges with full ebullience.

Op 22 Piano Sonata No 11 (1800) is the crown on Beethoven's "grand" piano sonatas, a work he was himself proud of. The first movement is quite experimental, as it is a play with motives rather than having a real melody. We have to wait for this until the second movement which is also in sonata form. Then follows a minuet and the work closes with a typical Viennese rondo.

Op 23 and 24 are two more violin sonatas (Violin Sonatas 4 and 5, 1801). They were composed at the same time, despite the different opus numbers and difference in character. The fourth sonata in a minor is rather austere and starts - surprisingly - with a presto. This is followed by a second movement that is both andante and scherzo. The last movement ends in the minor key.The Sonata No 5 in F is much more expansive and has been nicknamed "Spring Sonata" because of the lyrical, springlike melody in the first movement. It sounds like a homecoming after a long journey.

Summerizing: we had 5 piano sonatas among which the famous Pathetique. We also had five violin sonatas, ending at the high pinnacle of the Spring Sonata. The Quintet for Piano and Wind Instruments was harking back to Mozart and the Septet from 1799 was still based in the 18th century, too - but it also created a new form of serenade music which would be taken up by Schubert and many other composers in the 19th c. When hearing the horn sonata I regretted that Beethoven did not compose any concertos for this instrument like Mozart did. We also had the first two piano concertos, vehicles for Beethoven's own virtuosity, but certainly not to be neglected, and the first symphony. I particularly like the sound of wind instruments in the Beethoven orchestra. And we had those fantastic six string quartets...