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Ludwig van Beethoven. Complete Piano Sonatas, vol.5.


Text of the booklet "Ludwig van Beethoven. Complete Piano Sonatas, vol.5. IGOR TCHETUEV"

One of the young Beethoven’s most cherished desires was to surpass Mozart, the idol of his childhood years. After a mysterious early death in 1791 Mozart’s fame only increased, becoming cloaked in legend and raising the composer’s genius to inaccessible heights. Beethoven arrived in Vienna at the end of 1792, intending, in the words of his patron Count Ferdinand Waldstein, to ‘receive Mozart’s spirit from the hands of Haydn’.
The young Beethoven could not avoid such competition ‘in absentia’, even if he had wished to: his contemporaries still remembered Mozart well and constantly compared the style, manner of execution and creative temperament of the two composers. Such comparisons were not always in favour of Beethoven. Although it was commonly believed that he had the upper hand when it came to improvisation, outstripping even Mozart, critics usually reproached Beethoven the composer for an unnecessarily complicated style and an intentional striving for originality. As if taking a stance against those who preferred ‘lucid’ and ‘elegant’ art (essentially, the art of the music salon), in his early years Beethoven frequently took as an example the most complex and richly dramatic of Mozart’s works. For Beethoven, Mozart represented both a rival and an ally in equal measure.
Mozart’s Piano Sonata in C minor KV 457 served as a starting point for Beethoven when he composed his first Sonata in C minor between 1796 and 1798 (No.5, Op.10 No.1). Another mighty leap forward produced yet another sonata in C minor, the Pathetique (No.8), in which Mozart’s influence can scarcely be detected. In the Sonata No.5 there are several clear signs that Beethoven eagerly studied Mozart’s masterpiece: the ‘Mann-heim rocket’ – a swiftly ascending triad motif in the first bars of the first movement’s main theme, the subsequent dialogue between imperious and supplicatory ‘characters’, a shift to the minor key of the second theme in the reprise, the influence of operatic bel canto in the slow movement, and the explosive nervous tension of the finale. This Mozart sonata influenced many composers of the late 18th century, but Beethoven’s orientation on this well-known model was accentuated by his fervour and daring as an adversary. In Sonata No.5 there is not yet any sense of tragedy, philosophical depth or existential despair (all these appear in his music somewhat later, and of course they are expressed quite differently by Beethoven and Mozart). Instead we feel an incredible charge of willpower, ascetic self-discipline (no excess here!), precise thematisation and irreproachable exactitude of form. Of the three movements each carries equal weight and none are vague or ambiguous, although the music is filled with original and adventurous details indicative of genius.
The triad of sonatas Op.10 (Nos.5 to 7) was dedicated to Countess Anna Margarete von Browne (1769–1803). She arrived in Vienna in 1795 with her husband, Count Johann Georg (Ivan Yurevich) von Browne-Camus (1767–1827), a brigadier with the Russian military mission. Von Browne-Camus came from a Russified Irish family and his wife was the daughter of an eminent member of the nobility under Catherine the Great, senator Otto Hermann von Vietinghoff-Scheel (1722–1792), who was considered the uncrowned king of Livonia. It was Count von Browne that Beethoven gratefully referred to as ‘the first patron of his Muse’ (in the dedication of the three Trios, Op.9). Probably Countess Anne Margarete (Annette) took piano lessons with Beethoven and, judging by the works dedicated to her, she was a pianist gifted with refinement and insight rather than virtuosity. Certainly the Sonata No.5 cannot be numbered among his ‘salon’ repertoire. Still, it requires careful attention to details of musical texture, rhetorically polished accentuation and expressive phrasing, which were highly valued in the art of the late 18th century.

One of the most charming Beethoven sonatas, No.10 in G major, was written from 1798 to 1799 and included in the sonata diptych Op.14 (together with No.9 in E major). This opus was dedicated to Baroness Josephine von Braun (1765–1838), wife of banker and theatre director Peter von Braun. It is hard to say whether Beethoven was guided by this lady’s musical tastes or simply inspired by his own impressions, but the Sonatas Op.14 (and especially No.10) occupy an unusual place among his early compositions. They cannot be included with the ‘major’ sonatas demanding powerful, manly pianism, or with the ‘minor’ sonatas intended for the graceful hands of high-society dilettantes (the two sonatas Op.49, for instance).
Perhaps it is here that Beethoven came closest to what was described in treatises of the time as the ideal 18th-century sonata. His sonata is neither overly lightweight nor onerously complex, resembling a lively, unconstrained, sincere, emotional and witty yet polite conversation, like a fascinating dialogue in sound. It corresponds to human relations where there is a place for brief disputes, jokes, dreams, chivalrous flirtation (that may well include genuine yet lighthearted infatuation), playful games and dances in pleasant, friendly company…
First editions of many early Beethoven sonatas bear the designation ‘for harpsichord or pianoforte’ on the title page. We should not be misled by this. Such captions are an obvious sign that the publishers’ aim was to attract a wider circle of the public – harpsichords were still in use in the provinces. But of all Beethoven’s early sonatas it may be said that only No.10 is well suited to the harpsichord, especially the ‘rippling’, ‘ringing’ first movement. Nonetheless, it is precisely here, in the first edition of the sonatas Op.14, that the title page describes the pieces as suitable for fortepiano alone.
Sonata No.10 has three movements that maintain a joyful and playful mood. The first movement belongs to the type of ‘singing Allegro’ (‘das singende Allegro’) popular in the 18th century, where the themes form a continuous stream of melodic development without ever conflicting with one another. In Beethoven’s work this development progresses from the cheerful monologue of the lyrical hero (main theme) to an intoxicating song with mellifluous thirds (second theme) and an amorous dialogic duet (closing group). Clearly there is a difference of opinion, even a quarrel, in the development between characters – but blissful harmony is regained in the reprise.
The second movement, the Andante, is devoid of lyrical passages and presents a series of variations on a rather ‘playful’ marching theme. In his determination to continue in a largely joyful mood, Beethoven refrains from pursuing the theme in a minor key, contenting himself with ‘frightful’ dissonances in the penultimate variation. The finale in the form of a rondo, described in the score as a scherzo (‘Scherzo. Allegro assai’), is peppered with diverse musical witticisms and puns from the start of the main theme, in a girlishly coquettish and rhythmically capricious manner. In episodes the scherzo undergoes transformation, sometimes into elegant lyricism, sometimes into near-buffoonery, with affectionately teasing dialogues between bass and soprano.

The Sonata in F major, No.22 (Op.54) is one of Beethoven’s most mysterious and experimental compositions, written at the peak of his creative mastery. Dating from the year 1804, it was only published in the spring of 1806. At the same period Beethoven composed two grandiose sonatas – No.21 (the ‘Waldstein’) and No.23 (also known as the ‘Appassionata’). Drafts of all three works for piano appear side by side with those for the first edition of his only opera, ‘Fidelio’ (initially called ‘Leonora’).
Overshadowed, as it were, by these giants, Sonata No.22 in two movements seems modest and almost unremarkable. Even in modern times it is rarely played by students (too hard!) or concert pianists (being neither popular nor showy). It can be regarded as an introverted sonata: music about music that is not written to amaze or deeply move the listener, but for the sake of art itself, art observing its own boundaries and possibilities.
This work in two movements is reminiscent of certain piano sonatas by Joseph Haydn, with which there are undoubtedly si-milarities. However, contrasts such as those featured in the first movement of the Beethoven sonata and the kind of geometric, abstract toccatas that dominate the finale are absent in Haydn’s work. Of course, in the 18th century such music could not have been written, although even the music annotation refers us to a past epoch. The first movement is designated as ‘In tempo d’un menuetto’. But here the minuet is presented as a bodiless spirit, almost a phantom, rather than a well-defined form. Certain recognisable features have been preserved from the ‘king of dances and the dance of kings’: the measured tempo, a few rhythmical formulas and intonations of imaginary bows and turns. But that only applies to the first theme; the second, in forced octaves, bursts into this somewhat ironically recreated gallant style with stomping and loudly rumbling bass.
The form of the first movement is also unusual for a minuet: a double-themed rondo with a coda where the refrain varies in texture (ABA’B’A’’). The contrasting episode with an invasion of crashing octaves at its second appearance is curtailed, as if a rowdy guest had gradually yielded to the enchantment of courteous manners. But the main theme undergoes transformation too, sounding in the coda like a hymn that rhythmically recalls the se-cond theme from the first movement of the ‘Appassionata’.
In a strange way, the tone, texture, harmony and even form of the first movement in Sonata No.22 bring to mind the ‘Andante favori’, originally written as the slow movement of Sonata No.21, but then removed and published as a separate piece (evidently Beethoven decided that dimensions of this Andante were incompatible with its intermediate role in the sonata).
The texture of the lively second movement, the Allegretto, simultaneously reminds of us a Bach harpsichord prelude, a piano etude and an early sonata, where the main and second themes are not yet distinctly separate. But the development here is typical of Beethoven, being rather involved and rich in unexpected modulations that would have been highly unlikely in the previous epoch. The tonal movement reaches A flat major and continues in the reprise as well. This finale has something in common with the similarly mysterious and flowing finale of Sonata No.12 (Op.26), but even there the form and themes have more precise qualities. Here Beethoven seems to set himself the task of composing a sonata form without any kind of distinct theme and based only on textural unity and continuity of harmonic motion. In terms of the experimental finale Sonata No.22 anticipates the music of several 20th-century masters (Hindemith, Schoenberg, Stravinsky), eagerly turning to much older forms while avoiding any hint of sentimental nostalgia.
Another enigma associated with Sonata No.22 is the lack of any dedication. Bearing in mind the biographical circumstances, the composition of this sonata may be connected with lessons Beethoven gave in 1804 to the widowed Countess Josephine Deym, born Brunsvik (1779–1821). She became his ‘muse’ for several years and the composer dreamt of making her his wife, but for various reasons (primarily class differences) this proved impossible, and in 1807 their romance came to an end. In the music of Sonata No.22 there is no sign of emotional agitation or torment, but the veil of mystery that cloaks these pages and the sense of something left unsaid compel us to assume that the absence of any dedication must, in this instance, remain one of the sonata’s secrets.

Larisa Kirillina, translation by Patricia Donegan


Text of the booklet "Ludwig van Beethoven. Complete Piano Sonatas, vol.5. IGOR TCHETUEV"


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