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Ludwig van Beethoven. Complete Piano Sonatas, vol.3.


Text of the booklet "Ludwig van Beethoven. Complete Piano Sonatas, vol.3. IGOR TCHETUEV"

Beethoven was reluctant to comment on his own music. His friends often took serious pains trying to direct the conversation towards this or that opus, but even when successful, they usually received a new riddle instead of the coveted “key” (for example, he advised Schindler to read Shakespeare’s “Tempest”, which allegedly clarified the contents of Sonata No.17 and “Appassionata”). We don’t know any Beethoven’s direct remarks regarding the music of Sonatas op.2. However, once, in conversation with the flute virtuoso Louis Drouet, he referred to his early compositions in the following words: “They were printed differently from what I had written. When I looked at my manuscripts a couple of years after having finished them, I wondered whether I was crazy to cram into one piece the material enough for twenty. I burned the manuscripts so that no one could see them”. It is not known which compositions Beethoven referred to, but it is worth noting that the autographs of Sonatas op.2 do not survive. It is unlikely the composer meant them, though: scholars agree that the sonatas were finished in 1794–95, and in spring of 1796 the Wiener Zeitung announced their publication at Artaria. The author, apparently, could not keep the autograph for several years and then review it before the first publication. But the quoted phrase rouses a not-quite-typical question about this music: how much was put into this music? How many themes, motifs, ideas? What is its “capacity”?
Here’s the answer: the Second and Third sonatas contain so much as to be “enough for twenty”, while the First, judging by rough copies, was conceived quite differently from the start, as a composition which employs musical means as economically as possible. Beethoven is very versatile in these compositions: a free genius who creates with limitless freedom, he writes sonatas which are closer in scale to symphonies and more difficult than anything else previously written for the piano, yet at the same time he is the most academic of classicists who can put any drama into compact form, cast according to all 18th-century rules. Haydn was right to say that Beethoven had many heads, hearts and souls.
The first public performance of Sonatas op.2 happened in 1795, in Count Karl Lichnowsky’s salon. Lichnowsky was an influential Viennese patron of arts, Beethoven’s friend and benefactor. It was a gala soiree attended by all the Viennese elite: the day before, Haydn had returned from a triumphal tour in London, and the recital was dedicated to his arrival. Several months later, the sonatas were published with a dedication to Haydn and cordially received by critics and audiences alike.
The history of this opus leads us to the question of the relationship between Beethoven and Haydn and its status in 1795. It is not a simple topic, because we are talking about the psychology of two very different composers, and the bulk of available evidence are the accounts of third persons, often written down many years after the events.
Beethoven owed a lot to Haydn and understood it quite well. Haydn helped him move to Vienna, took good care of him in the big city, charged a symbolic price for his lessons and tried to procure a better salary for his pupil. To that end, he wrote a letter to the Elector of Cologne in which he assured the addressee that Beethoven would become the greatest composer of all Europe, and he, Haydn, would be proud of having been his teacher.
There was certainly a time when the admiring pupil was hanging to every Master’s word, but this time passed quickly. There were many reasons for the cooling. Here’s one example. Once the composer Johann Schenk caught a glimpse of Beethoven’s counterpoint exercises and said that Haydn was missing mistakes in them. From that time on, Beethoven started taking lessons from Schenk behind Haydn’s back.
According to Ferdinand Ries, Beethoven seldom let a chance go by without lashing out at Haydn. Their relationship became especially strained after the incident shortly before the completion of Sonatas op.2 at the above-mentioned salon of Count Lichnowsky. On that occasion, Beethoven’s Trios op.1 for piano, violin and cello were performed for the first time. After the performance, Haydn, whose opinion was eagerly awaited, commended the first two pieces but advised against publishing the third, Trio in C minor. Beethoven thought it was his best: it was written with ardour and panache; his friends, and, after the publication, Viennese music lovers, universally agreed. Not understanding the reasons for Haydn’s lukewarm reaction, Beethoven was deeply hurt and started to almost suspect his teacher of envy. This assumption seems absurd: at the time, Haydn was at the pinnacle of his career, he was “the Patriarch of New Music”, “Father and Reformer of the noble art of music”. The young Beethoven, on the other hand, was still struggling “to make a go” (“Vienna is filled with people, and even the better ones will find it hard to make a go”, he wrote in a letter to Wegeler when this difficult time was already behind him). Haydn could not possibly envy Beethoven.
Haydn once said that he would have liked to see the note “Haydn’s disciple” on publications of Beethoven’s opus. Beethoven used to tell his friends that he had not learned anything from Haydn and would not call himself his disciple. The title page of Sonatas op.2 simply says “Dedicated to Joseph Haydn”.
In spite of such rough patches – about which we only know so much – things never came to an actual break-up. In 1808, the composers said moving good-byes when Haydn appeared in public for one last time. If Louis Drouet’s memoirs are to be believed, in later years Beethoven expressed gratitude to his teacher: “In my early steps as a composer I would have made many stupid things, were it not for the sound advice from Papa Haydn and Albrechtsberger”. “Papa Haydn” was mentioned kindly; it vividly reminds many other stories about Beethoven’s temper combined with his kindness, ability to forgive and deep, sincere remorse about his rudeness.
All sonatas op.2 are in four movements: the first movements are in sonata form, the second movement of every cycle is slow, the third is a minuet or a scherzo, the final a rondo. Even though their structure is similar, Beethoven shows drastically dissimilar composing methods. It is best seen if one compares the first movements.
Allegro of the Sonata in F minor is carved out of a single rhythm: five light quarter notes lead to the rhythmically heavy “dotted note”. The rhythm is preserved in both themes of the first movement, the main and the second. In the main one it is the base of the so-called “Mannheim rocket” (a rapidly ascending broken triad, staccato; today’s researchers agree that such “rockets” were first introduced in Italy rather than in Mannheim). In the second theme this rhythm becomes the base of the descending legato melody. Nathan Fishman who studied Beethoven’s sketches remarks that the composer was looking for this effect for several years, exploring such themes for this sonata which would be contrasting and similar at the same time (variants are found in the drafts from 1790–1793). Pointing out that separation of unity and merging of differences would later become one of the most important rules of Beethoven’s composing art, Fishman quotes Goethe: “Is it but one being single / Which as same itself divides? / Are there two which choose to mingle / So that one each other hides?” Beethoven once wrote out this poem (“Ginkgo biloba”) in his diary and circled the quoted stanza.
The harmony of the first movement of Sonata No.1 is used with equal economy; the tonal plan of the development is symmetrical, with only those keys closely related with F minor being involved (A flat major – B flat minor – C minor – B flat minor – A flat major). Two themes with identical rhythm and four related keys – in this case, it rounds up the basic constructive elements of sonata form. The composer’s goal was to achieve maximum unity, not to say too much and at the same time to keep the acuity of the message.
Allegros in Sonatas in A major and C major are built on a different principle. There we see many motley motifs which differ in texture, articulation and dynamics. The whole is constructed as a mosaic, a beautiful combination of numerous elements. Harmony is whimsical, modulations unexpected, tonal plan bold and often unpredictable. The main theme of Sonata No.2 has five different motifs, and they all are later weaved into the development. The second theme, which should have started in E major, starts in the parallel minor; before it gets to major, we hear a bizarre tonal sequence: E minor – G major – B flat major – D major – E major –
F sharp minor – (E major). Equally fanciful is the first movement of Sonata No.3: new melodic figures are created inspiredly and naturally, and they make up the concert-style Allegro as if by themselves, with a virtuoso cadenza in the coda. All that was unusual at the time: sonata was a chamber genre, not performed in large concerts. In Op.2 we see two different approaches to the composition of a sonata allegro. Later, dozens more will follow – Beethoven did not like to repeat himself (as Ferdinand Ries said, “his mind was creating new things until his very death”).
Once, asked where he got his ideas, Beethoven replied: “I find them in nature, in woods, while walking, in the silence of the night, at dawn, excited by the moods which a poet expresses in words, but in my case they turn into sounds”. Commenting on this passage, Larisa Kirillina remarks that classicist nature is not a mysterious and inspired landscape, but rather a thinking mind. It contains something divine and enlightened, it calls man to philosophical musings. Such musing might well be sad, but nature as such is not hostile to man (sombre fantasy in the form of sylphids, dwarfs and mermaids was alien to the 18th century – just as the notion that forests and valleys sheltered some mysterious and dangerous Evil). Painting a landscape was considered a task beneath a composer; music had to express thoughts and feelings. “In cloud shapes we do not see anything that could attract our hearts”, wrote Johann Sulzer in his “Allgemeine Theorie der Schonen Kunste” (General History of Fine Arts) which was popular to the point of banality.
It is apparently in this context (Nature – God – Man) that the slow movements of all three sonatas from Op.2 should be construed.
Beethoven’s friend Wegeler once wrote a text underlay for the adagio of Sonata No.1; in 1807, it was published as a song under the title “Lament”. In Wegeler’s version it was a song about the vanished happiness, about death; it concluded with the words “No answer, no hope! Ah, who can save me? Death alone shall soothe me”. It is interesting that what we have is a piece in major key with a full-bodied, “singing”, beautifully developed theme. The shadow only rises in the few bars in the middle section, where a new image appears. It is indeed very striking, but it seems nobler and sterner than Wegeler’s lament. At this point, the melody soars, the middle voice moves in thirds, rather far from it, the bass appears infrequently, once per two bars. Kirillina’s astute observation that the classicists’ poetic freedom soars but remembers the earth’s gravity might have been inspired by such music. Adagio from Sonata No.1 is a live illustration of such soaring, the aspiration from the wilds to the airy, sad and austere theme which only remembers gravity once every two bars.
The slow movement of Sonata No.2 (Largo appassionato) also acquired an interpretation close to Wegeler’s “Lament”, even though it took shape in different culture and time. The main chara-
cter of a short story “The Garnet Bracelet” (1911) by Russian author Alexander Kuprin listens to this Largo after the death of the man who was unrequitedly in love with her (he thought that this music was the best piece Beethoven had ever written). Her thoughts form a kind of verses with such words “Hallowed be thy name”: “In my soul I call death, but my heart is full of praise for you: ‘Hallowed be thy name’. You do not know – neither you nor those around you – how beautiful you are. The clock is striking. It is time. And, dying, in the mournful hour of parting with life I still sing – glory to you”.
Just as with Wegeler, there is no contrast in Kuprin’s text; reading it divorced from the music, one can easily picture a sombre piece without any sudden developments. However, Beethoven’s Largo starts in a solemn pastoral manner, and it is only in the coda that the theme abruptly changes and appears in minor as an unexpected apparition – then transforming into an otherworldly chime of a chorale. Alexander Pushkin’s lines from his short play “Mozart and Salieri” seem more to the point: “I feel good, when all at once... A funereal vision, sudden gloom, or something…”. These lines may also be attributed to the slow movement of Sonata No.3, where the shadow appears just as suddenly and mysteriously – if, perhaps, less dramatically. It is noteworthy than in Pushkin’s play it is Mozart who says it when he describes his new musical “trifle”. It seems that Beethoven’s slow pieces in major inherited this “sudden gloom” directly from Mozart, whom Beethoven idolized and always admired. A contrast like that was scarcely to Haydn’s liking.
Beethoven did not assume that three Sonatas op.2 should be performed in a sequence, one after another. Moreover, he thought it quite acceptable to perform separate movements of a sonata in a concert; such practice was widespread. It is known that during his tour in Prague in 1798 he played the Adagio and the Rondo from Sonata No.2 among other pieces (that is, the second and the fourth movements). But today it seems natural to perceive the whole opus – not just every sonata – as a whole.
“As for me,” Beethoven once wrote in a letter to Brunswick, “My realm is in the air; the tones whirl as does often the wind and thus it often whirls in my soul, too”. This whirlwind finishes the F minor sonata. It seems impossible to perform the coquettish, worldly music in A major straight after it; it has nothing to do with the dramas in the airy realm. A deep caesura should be placed between the F minor sonata and the following two, as if an important event is happening in the space between. One is tempted to write in there a remark along the following lines: “[Faust] opens the Book, and perceives the sign of the Macrocosm. Ha! what a sudden rapture leaps from this / I view, through all my senses swiftly flowing!”. After that one can play the following two pieces, whose souls are filled with bright, clear daylight.

Anna Andrushkevich, translation by Viktor Sonkin

Text of the booklet "Ludwig van Beethoven. Complete Piano Sonatas, vol.3. IGOR TCHETUEV"


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