Welcome to the first concert of our multi-year survey exploring the chamber works of Beethoven. The distinguishing feature of our presentation is the rich variety of vocal work, including arias, duets, lieder and song cycles, and the exquisite, although less frequently-heard chamber repertoire. In Beethoven’s chamber works we see the move from music to be played by amateurs in private homes, to intricate and technically challenging repertoire composed for the concert hall. Perhaps the most salient fact about Beethoven’s compositional life is that his style developed over a number of years. His output ranges from the early Mozart-like classical style to the mature period so typified by the middle symphonies, to the visionary and radically experimental compositions of the final period, the work of a deaf man who composed for future generations with complex works such as the Grosse Fugue for string quartet.
Our first program presents Beethoven’s first published piano trio and string trio alongside lieder from his early compositional period.
The Op. 48 Gellert Songs, composed to the poetry of Christian Fürchtegott Gellert, are all various praises to God unified by a tone of solemnity and devotion. They were composed during a tumultuous time in Beethoven’s life, thus we find Beethoven at his most serious and earnest. In an 1801 letter to Dr. Franz Wegeler, we find the composer’s first mention of the growing deafness that would eventually drive him into near isolation. This distress, coupled with the disappointment of his unrequited love for a “dear charming girl” (most likely the Countess Giulietta Guicciardi, a student of Beethoven and the dedicatee of the “Moonlight” Sonata, op. 27, No. 2) may have induced his temporary affinity for religious subjects such as the Gellert poems.
Beethoven wrote five string trios, the final being composed in 1798. Most historians posit that Beethoven abandoned the form once he began writing string quartets in that same year. However, we need not consider the string trio an “inferior” form. In the hands of the inventive craftsman Beethoven, the sonic possibilities are considerable even without a second violin. The String Trio in Eb, Op. 3, was Beethoven’s first string ensemble work, modeled after Mozart’s famous Divertimento for String Trio (K.563) of 1788. It brought the young Beethoven international attention. The first movement, Allegro con brio, is in sonata form and moves through a broad theme into a violin/cello duet. The composition proceeds with exciting interplay among the three instruments, to conclude with an ebullient Allegro.
It is always intriguing to note the sort of music a great composer chooses as his opus 1. In Beethoven’s case his first two opus numbers were assigned to, respectively, a set of three piano trios and a set of three piano sonatas. Either or both might have been intended as a nod of adoration to his teacher Joseph Haydn, who had been the same sort of trailblazer in those genres that Beethoven was to become in the symphony and the string quartet. The sonatas were dedicated to Haydn and although the trios were inscribed to Beethoven’s early and faithful patron, Prince Lichnowsky, Beethoven surely had Haydn’s models in mind. With Haydn present, the op. 1 trios were performed at Prince Lichnowsky’s home to welcome Haydn home from his triumphal second journey to London in 1795.
The opening movement of the Piano Trio No. 1 in Eb reveals a personality of striking energy. Most dramatic perhaps is the extension of the coda into a breathtaking new development, heightening the power of the movement’s conclusion. The Adagio cantabile is cast in a lyric sonata-form movement in Ab building to an expressive climax in the development. The recapitulation is handsomely ornamented. Although somewhat monothematic, the Scherzo is highly animated. Sustained lines in the strings against fleet piano figures characterize the tender trio that follows. The finale begins with a jaunty leap of a tenth in the piano to set off an effervescent mood. This upward-reaching gesture is balanced by the more measured descent of the secondary theme. The movement combines elements of sonata and rondo, maintaining throughout a spirited mood and boundless energy.
- Ryan Turner 2010