Saturday, December 17, 2011


Sonatas for Piano and Violin
by Ludwig Beethoven

"What you are, you are by accident of birth; what I am, I am by myself. There are and will be a thousand princes; there is only one Beethoven."  -  Ludwig Beethoven

Yesterday was the anniversary of Beethoven's birth and to celebrate, rather than listen to the Symphonies, Quartets or Piano Sonatas, I chose to focus my listening on the Sonatas for Piano and Violin.  These span the the middle years of his career from the Op. 12 in 1798 until the final sonata in 1812.

The classical violin sonata had started to change with Mozart’s sonatas composed in Paris during the late 1770’s.  The violin line became more independent and indispensable.  Piano and violin would switch between melody and accompaniment, discourse contrapuntally, and sometimes even assume a concerto-like manner.  But the violin’s new found liberty also presented new problems of balance, and imposed a somewhat intimidating difficulty.  Beethoven’s sonatas are even more difficult and complex than Mozart’s.  They span an ample range of characters, techniques, and styles.  After Beethoven, composition of violin sonatas continued but never in the old style, albeit in smaller quantities, and always striving towards deeper qualities. 

The first sonatas for piano and violin, op. 12, no. 1-3 (Sonata in D major, Sonata in A major and Sonata in E flat major) composed in 1799 were dedicated to Antonio Salieri, the capelmaistro of the Viennese court and Beethoven’s professor after Albrechtsberger.  Of these sonatas my favorite is the 3rd in E flat.  The Sonatas op. 23 and 24 (Sonata in A minor and Sonata in F major) were composed in 1801 and they bring clarity to the concerto style.
Another favorite is the Sonata in F major op. 24 also known as "The Spring Sonata " through which Beethoven frees himself from the restraints of the norms imposed by previous work.
The Sonatas op. 30 (Sonata in A major, Sonata in C minor and Sonata in G major) composed in 1802 represented an important step in the evolution of the sonata form, each sonata constituting an antithesis for the former and a synthesis of the acquired experience.
The Sonata in A major op. 47, also known as the "Kreutzer Sonata ", because it was dedicated to the well-known violinist Rudolph Kreutzer, represents a genuine center of attraction especially due to the concerto character of both instruments, thing that made certain commentators to assert that it is a double concerto. Here we see evidence of  Beethoven’s tendency towards monumental architectonic constructions, mostly due to the sonata structure in the extreme parts of the work. It’s worth mentioning that Sonata op. 47 was composed the same year as the 3rd Symphony, "Eroica" (1803).
The Sonata in G major op. 96 concludes the sonata cycle for piano and violin. Written in 1812 and dedicated to French violinist Pierre Rode, the sonata has a special form and expression through the miniature character of the first part but also through avoidance of the concerto character with the treatment of instruments.

These all are delightful chamber pieces and worthy of celebration or simple listening any time of the year.

Beethoven Piano and Violin Sonatas performed by Itzhak Perlman and Vladimir Ashkenazy.
London CD 421 453-2. 1988

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