BEETHOVEN Cello Sonata Op.102 No.1 (15’)
BEETHOVEN 12 Variations on ‘See the conqu’ring hero comes’ from Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus (13’)
BEETHOVEN Cello Sonata Op.102 No.2 (20’)
Gemma Rosefield and Tim Horton presented Beethoven’s first two cello sonatas in sell-out concerts that launched Sheffield’s Classical Weekend 2023. They return to present the final pair of sonatas , interspersed with Beethoven’s charming and inventive variations on a theme from Handel’s oratorio ‘Judas Maccabaeus’. These two phenomenal musicians, with a deep understanding and enjoyment of the great composer, are sure to bring to life these absolute glories of virtuosic music for cello and piano.
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BEETHOVEN Ludwig Van, Cello Sonata Op.102 No.1
Beethoven’s two cello sonatas Op.102 (in C major and D major) were composed in 1815 and dedicated to Beethoven’s friend, Countess Anna Maria Erdödy. They were published in Vienna (by Artaria) and Bonn (by Simrock) in 1817. The first of the two sonatas is one of Beethoven’s most unusual structures, consisting of two fast movements, each of them preceded by an extended slow introduction.
The first movement opens gently, with a lyrical melody in the upper register of the cello, to which the piano responds with an answering phrase, establishing the instrumental dialogue that is so often a feature of this sonata. After subsiding on to a C, the lowest note of the cello, there is an abrupt change of mood and tempo with the arrival of a stern idea in A minor, marked by dotted rhythms. The movement remains in A minor for most of the movement, ending tersely. The second movement begins with an elaborate slow introduction which gives way to a radiant recollection of the first movement – an unusual procedure that Beethoven was to use again in the finale of his Ninth Symphony. The main theme of the Allegro begins strangely, with a four-note rising fragment and a held note, but this idea quickly develops dramatic momentum, interrupted on several occasions by passages where the cello plays sustained notes and the piano is silent. The movement ends by appearing to fizzle out (using the four-note idea), before a triumphant closing flourish.
© Nigel Simeone
BEETHOVEN Ludwig Van, 12 Variations on ‘See the conqu’ring hero comes’ from Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus
In 1796, the young Beethoven set out on a concert tour (the only one of his career) that took him to Prague, Dresden, Leipzig and Berlin. While in Berlin, he visited the court of the Friedrich Wilhelm II, the King of Prussia. During this visit, Beethoven composed several works for cello and piano, including the two Op. 5 Sonatas, and this set of variations on the famous tune ‘See the conqu’ring hero comes’ from Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus. Beethoven once described Handel as ‘the greatest composer that ever lived’ and copied out Messiah in order ‘to unravel its complexities’. His choice of theme is therefore no surprise, and the words of the tune may have seemed an appropriate tribute to King Friedrich Wilhelm. The first performance was probably given by Beethoven and Jean–Louis Duport in Berlin in 1796, at the same time as the premiere of the Op. 5 cello sonatas. The theme is presented on the piano, modestly accompanied by the cello. The twelve variations that follow explore the tune with great wit and ingenuity, including a plaintive version of the theme in G minor (Variation 4), great dramaitc intensity in Variation 8 (the other variation in a minor key), presenting the theme in canon between the two instruments (Variation 10) and, following a rhapsodic Adagio, reworking it as an invigorating dance to end the work in suitably triumphant mood.
Nigel Simeone 2016
BEETHOVEN Ludwig van, Sonata for Cello and Piano in D Op.102 No.2
Allegro con brio
Adagio con molto sentimento d’affetto
Allegro – Allegro fugato
Beethoven’s last two cello sonatas were composed in 1815 dedicated to the Countess Anna Maria Erdödy. The initial critical response was one of bewilderment, one critic declaring that “these two sonatas are definitely among the strangest and most unusual works … ever written for the pianoforte. Everything about them is completely different from anything else we have heard, even by this composer.” Indeed, the D major Cello Sonata Op.102 No.2 is a work that points forward to some of Beethoven’s final instrumental works – the late piano sonatas and quartets – in significant ways. The Beethoven scholar William Kinderman has suggested that the solemnity and austerity of the slow movement (in D minor) has pre-echoes of the ‘Heiliger Dankgesang’ from the Quartet Op.132, while fugal finale is the one of a series of such movements in Beethoven’s late instrumental pieces (followed by the ‘Hammerklavier’ Sonata and the Grosse Fuge among others). The whole sonata, from the brusque opening of its first movement, to the extraordinary culmination of the fugue, is characterized by wild emotional contrasts: the stern, profoundly serious Adagio is flanked by two faster movements that are dominated by a fiery, even angry, dialogue between the two instruments.
Nigel Simeone © 2012