Recorded on 09/27/2010, uploaded on 09/28/2010
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
Ludwig van Beethoven composed only five sonatas for the cello and singlehandedly set the precedent for future composers in a genre that was practically non-existent. The instrument itself had only recently come into its own as a solo instrument, released from its restrictive role as part of the basso continuo largely by the efforts of Joseph Haydn. Though the cello had already assumed for itself a more predominant role in the string quartet, and secured a position in piano trio, there was nevertheless no example for Beethoven to follow in the composition of cello sonatas.
In the late spring of 1796, Beethoven travelled with Prince Lichnowsky to Berlin where he met the King of Prussia Friedrich Wilhelm II, a music-lover and amateur cellist, and performed at the royal court. During his stay, he composed the first two of his cellos sonatas, which were later published as his opus 5. Though the sonatas were dedicated to the Prussian monarch in hopes of receiving a monetary reward, they were actually written for and premiered by Jean-Pierre Duport, the king’s first cellist and teacher, or possibly, as some recent scholarship suggests, his younger brother Jean-Louis. Both works consist of only two movements, the first of which in each case is preceded by a slow introduction, and display Beethoven’s already growing imagination and penchant for wide-ranging modulations.
The first sonata, in F major, opens with a lengthy introduction of a rhapsodic nature and concluding with dramatic pause on a dominant seventh before moving forward into the first movement proper. The principal theme is announced first by the piano, supported by the cello, and then again with the roles reversed. The movement’s secondary theme modulates to the expected dominant, yet Beethoven tinges the tonal landscape with the tonality of A-flat major. Broadening the landscape even wider, the development begins in A major and even reaches D-flat before the first theme is recapitulated in the tonic key. Looking forward to some of his later works, Beethoven unexpectedly returns to an Adagio tempo at the end of the movement, and then further inserts a Presto in cut-time before making a final statement of the principal theme. The finale is a frolicking rondo in 6/8 meter. It abounds in playful energy and Beethoven’s usual interesting treatment of rhythm. With the movement’s incessant motives and intricate dialogue between soloist and accompanist, all combine to form an exciting conclusion to Beethoven’s first sonata for the cello. Joseph DuBose
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