BEETHOVEN Ludwig Van, Cello Sonatas Op.5 No.1 & No.2
Cello Sonata No.1 in F, Op.5 No.1
Adagio sostenuto. Allegro
Rondo. Allegro vivace
Cello Sonata No.2 in G minor Op.5 No.2
Adagio sostenuto ed espressivo – Allegro molto più tosto presto
In 1796 Beethoven travelled from Vienna to Prague, Dresden and Berlin. In Berlin he heard the cellist Jean-Louis Duport at the court of Friedrich Wilhelm II. The King himself was also an enthusiastic amateur cellist to whom Mozart had dedicated his ‘Prussian’ Quartets, and though it was Duport who gave the first performance of the Op.5 sonatas, Beethoven was eager to attract aristocratic patronage and dedicated them to ‘His Majesty Friedrich Wilhelm II, King of Prussia’. He was rewarded handsomely, with a gold box full of gold coins, but no commissions followed, since the musical monarch died a year later. In his 1838 reminiscences of Beethoven, his pupil Ferdinand Ries wrote that ‘Beethoven played several times at the court of King Friedrich Wilhelm II, where he played the two grand sonatas with obbligato violoncello, Op.5 which he had composed for Duport, first violoncellist of the King, and himself. On his departure he received a gold snuffbox filled with Louis d’Or. Beethoven told me with pride that it was no ordinary snuffbox, but one of the kind that are presented to ambassadors.’
The two sonatas were published in 1797 and they were innovative in terms of the instrumentation – neither Haydn nor Mozart had written sonatas for cello and piano. But their significance goes far beyond the scoring, since some of Beethoven’s boldest early musical ideas are to be found here.
The 1st Sonata in F major opens with a slow introduction in which cello and piano creep in with a theme in octaves, but as the musical argument develops so does the distinctive role of each instrument. Billed – as was the custom of the time – as a ‘Sonata for Piano and Cello’, Beethoven establishes a sophisticated dialogue between the two musical partners. The main Allegro theme is introduced by the piano, with the cello providing the accompaniment, and the roles are then reversed for the second statement of the tune. The second (and last) movement begins with the cello and piano mirroring each other’s every gesture, and with only brief moments of respite, the music works towards a dramatic close.
The 2nd Sonata in G minor begins with a slow introduction that presents a dramatic dialogue between the instruments. A more lyrical melody is heard on the cello, echoed by the piano, and the ideas already introduced are woven into a texture dominated by the descending scale from the opening, but now mirrored by an ascending scale, in an impassioned interchange between cello and piano. The slow introduction sinks into uneasy silences before the main Allegro molto più tosto presto. Here the principal theme is introduced by the cello, quickly answered by the piano. There are moments of repose (including a dancing theme introduced in the development section), but for most of this movement, there’s a powerful feeling of energetic momentum. Beethoven already demonstrates in this early work an ability to create a startlingly vivid musical landscape with the greatest economy – something he was to do in so many later works – by developing a few terse ideas to the fullest possible extent. For the concluding Rondo, Beethoven moves to G major, in a movement with a certain formal elegance at the start, and interrupted with a few darker outbursts, but above this finale is an affirmative celebration of instrumental virtuosity.
© Nigel Simeone