"Art makes life, makes interest, makes importance"

July 22, 2011

Listening to the complete Beethoven (4)

Opus 51: Two Rondos for Piano (1797). No. 1: Rondo in C major. No. 2: Rondo in G major. Again two earlier works, the first one Moderato e grazioso, offers a principal theme in characteristic singing style, the second one Andante cantabile e grazioso, contains an E major episode of some brilliance. This all shows how productive Beethoven was in the 1790s!

Opus 52: Eight Songs (1804–1805). These are uncomplicated "Lieder", ranging from the sentimental to the humorous. (No. 1: "Urians Reise um die Welt," No. 2: "Feuerfab," No. 3: "Das Liedchen von der Ruhe," No. 4: "Maigesang," No. 5: "Mollys Abschied," No. 6: "Die Liebe," No. 7: "Marmotte," No. 8: "Das Blümchen Wunderhold").

Opus 53: Piano Sonata No. 21 in C major ("Waldstein") (1803). Beethoven knew Count Waldstein from Bonn and the count helped Beethoven with his network in Vienna when the composer moved there in 1792. Eleven years later, Beethoven paid the count back with the dedication of his most revolutionary sonata to date. The sonata was the first written by Beethoven for the new Erard piano with its extended range. As the sonata was considered too long by contemporaries, Beethoven replaced the slow movement (now known as the Andante Faviori) with an introduction to the finale. The last movement has an unforgettable melody.

Opus 54: Piano Sonata No. 22 in F major (1804). A small work wedged in between the giants of the Waldstein and Appassionata sonatas. It is quite unconventional, in only two movements, neither of which is in sonata form. Called "bizar" by Beethoven's contemporaries, the sonata is cryptically concise, starting with a rondo in the tempo of a minuet and ending with a superfast molto perpetuo.

Opus 55: Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major ("Eroica") (1805). Little need be said about this monumental work, one of the most superb creations in the whole of symphonic literature.
Website on the Eroica, Program Note NPR Music, A Symphonic Revolution (interactive website of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra), Beethoven's Eroica.

Opus 56: Triple Concerto for violin, cello, and piano in C major (1804–1805). Often considered one of Beethoven's lesser works, this is in fact a very pleasing concert, harking back to the Sinfonia Concertante as practiced by Stamitz, Salieri, Mozart and Haydn. The first movement is expansive but also has the clarity of chamber-music. The finale is a virtuoso Rondo alla Polacca.

Opus 57: Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor ("Appassionata") (1805–1806). Beethoven's most violent musical utterance. The first movement is unrelenting in its onslaught. There are again startling changes in tone and dynamics. After a brief break in the andante, a set of four variations, follows the finale which gives us more passionate violence of the perpetuum mobile kind, ending in a gesture of defiance.
Here is an extended discussion of this sonata.

Opus 58: Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major (1805–1806). A novelty at the start is the presentation of the theme by the solo piano, instead of the conventional purely orchestral introduction. On top of that, this is not a bravura opening, but a hushed statement which sets the mood for the whole movement. The andante is a dialogue between piano and orchestra, The cantabile piano is set against gruff string passages as if to to test the power of poetry to tame harsh reality. The rondo finale is cheerful and dancing. This concerto is special because its expressive depth and structural breadth are not created with grand gestures. It is all very soft-spoken, but determined, as if machismo has been transcended here. There are only few of the usual military elements (which would again play a large part in the fifth concerto) - as if Beethoven has met Mozart. My favorite Beethoven piano concerto.

Opus 59: Three String Quartets ("Rasumovsky," for their dedication to the Russian ambassador) (1806). These are real symphonic quartets, clocking in at about 45 minutes and at least one-third longer than the op. 18 quartets and technically very difficult.  To pay homage to his patron, who was a colorful figure in Viennese cultural life, Beethoven weaved a Russian theme into each quartet.
No. 1: String Quartet No. 7 in F major. Spacious and majestic, a strange blend of serenity and inner force. The middle of the first movement is a calm fugato. "Fate does not knock at the door here, but stares through the window." (Robert Simpson) The adventurous second movement is a scherzo that continually changes shape "as shadow and sunlight flickering over a vast plain." (Marx) This is followed by an elegiac andante and bright finale on the above-mentioned Russian melody.
No. 2: String Quartet No. 8 in E minor. The initial allegro in e-minor is fierce and strong. this is followed by a hymnlike slow movement. This time it is the scherzo that has the Russian theme, used rather harshly. the finale again ends in the minor key.
No. 3: String Quartet No. 9 in C major. An exercise in shape-shifting, with various melodies flitting through, but no stability of sonata-form.

Opus 60: Symphony No. 4 in B-flat major (1806). A classical symphony in the Haydn mode, very different from its two neighbors, without tragedy, but fresh and spontaneous. The first movement starts with a slow introduction in which all themes can be heard and ends with a coda that is a real culmination. There is no tragedy, but rather classical pose in this symphony.

Opus 61: Violin Concerto in D major (1806). The meditative violin concerto is one of Beethoven's most beautiful musical utterances. I used to have an old mono record of Jascha Heifetz with Charles Munch and still think fondly about that interpretation. Like the fourth piano concerto this is a concerto without bravura, although the technical difficulties for the solo player are immense - reason the first performance wiht a soloist who had had no chance to rehearse, was a disaster. Therefore Beethoven also made a piano version.
(Opus 61a: Piano Transcription of Violin Concerto Opus 61).

Opus 62: Coriolan Overture (1807). Together with Egmont, Beethoven's best concert overture. The main theme represents Coriolanus' resolve to invade Rome, while a more tender theme stands for the pleadings of his mother to desist. Coriolan eventually gives in to his mother, but as there also is no way back for him, he commits suicide.

We skip two arrangements, Opus 63: Arrangement of String Quintet (Opus 4) for Piano Trio (1806) and Opus 64: Arrangement of String Trio (Opus 3) for Piano and Cello (1807).

Next is a single aria, dating from 10 years before: Opus 65: Aria: "Ah perfido!" (1796). Also Opus 66: 12 Variations for cello & piano in F major on Mozart's "Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen" (1796) is a ten year old work.

Conclusion:This is a great slice of Beethoven's oeuvre, containing the Waldstein and Appassionata sonatas and the third symphony. It also covers 1806, a dark year as Vienna was occupied by the forces of Napoleon, but also the period that gave birth to meditative and for once non-militaristic music as the Fourth Piano Concerto, the Violin Concerto and the Fourth Symphony. Beethoven also continued writing string quartets, with the difficult and enigmatic Razumowsky quartets Op 59.