Cello Sonata No. 1 in F Major, Op. 5 (1796)
The Cello Sonata No. 1 in F Major, Op. 5 begins with a tentative, slow introduction until the cello breaks out into three bars of what it does best – singing a sustained melody. But this is tantalizingly brief, and for the rest of the introduction, it mostly accompanies the piano and its fantasia-like figurations. The ensuing Allegro opens with a deliciously fresh theme in the piano, the descending scale and upwards arpeggio of which are taken from the introduction. A hint of minor tonality is introduced by the cello in the second theme. Indeed, the swift changes between Major and minor are almost Mozartian, but the broken octaves in the piano part are pure Beethoven. Another theme, introduced before the end of the exposition, is simple but charming in its use of syncopation.
The development section finds us suddenly in A Major with obvious delight. But then things get stormy and the cello growls in the lower register. There is a wonderful bridge passage in D flat Major which takes us quite by surprise, followed by a chromatic ascent and a sudden fortissimo at the return of the theme. After the recapitulation, rather as we would expect in a concerto, a pause introduces a cadenza-like passage for both instruments—probably the first joint cadenza written for cello and piano. Those upward arpeggios reappear in a brief return to the Adagio tempo. But high spirits win the day, and after some virtuoso flourishes in both instruments (marked Presto), the opening theme returns to give us a brief but brilliant coda.
Both of the Op. 5 sonatas have finales that are rustic in flavour, where the good smells and fresh air of the countryside are not far away. The Rondo of the F Major, marked Allegro vivace, is a merry dance in 6/8 time with some nice imitation at the beginning. It is far from well-behaved, however. The middle section is a country dance in B flat minor after which the action almost stops while the cello drones away on an open fifth, and the piano has those rising arpeggios again. The second time this happens we are led directly to the coda, which, like the whole movement, demands virtuoso playing from both participants, except for a brief reminiscence of quieter moments shortly before the end.
Trio for Piano, Flute and Bassoon, WoO 37 (1786)
Most of Beethoven’s chamber works for winds were written for particular occasions and purposes. It is likely that he composed the Trio, WoO. 37, for the Von Westerholt family, whose father played the bassoon and son the flute while the daughter took piano lessons from the fifteen-year-old Beethoven. The daughter, Maria Anna, must have been a first-rate student, for the keyboard part is difficult. In three movements, the Trio in G Major is heavily influenced by Mozart, both in its large-scale characteristics and piano figurations. The piano part dominates throughout.
Beethoven opens the Trio with an Allegro in 4/4 meter. The first theme, beginning with a unison arpeggio in all three instruments, sounds only once and immediately gives way to the transition, consisting of a flurry of scale passages in the flute and bassoon. The secondary theme first appears in thirds in the piano part before being doubled by the wind instruments. An almost childlike overflow of material follows in the closing area. The brief development section is followed by the boisterous entrance of the recapitulation. The Adagio, in G minor, is set in 2/4 meter. The delicacy and detail of the movement are surprising in a work from Beethoven’s early period. A Thema andante con variationi, in 2/4, closes the work. The classically proportioned theme of two eight-measure tunes sets the stage for the variations. All seven of the variations follow this pattern and are highly ornamental; all are in the tonic except the fourth, in G minor.
While Beethoven shows some skill in his handling of forms here, he was still finding his way in composition and evolving his style. Indeed, the piece hardly shows the mature traits of the great composer to come. The trio was published posthumously. Beethoven suppressed the score throughout his life and probably would have opposed its publication!
Piano Quartet No. 1 in Eb Major, WoO 36 (1785)
The three piano quartets WoO 36, written in 1785 at the age of fifteen, were found amongst Beethoven’s papers after his death and were not printed until 1828 in Vienna. The works already feature Beethoven’s tendency towards expansive breadth of expression, vigorous manner, and innate good taste.
Each of the three quartets of WoO 36 draws on a specific violin sonata by Mozart, from the set published in 1781. The first of Beethoven’s quartets is modeled on Mozart’s K. 379/373a, the second on K. 380/374f, and the third on K. 296. All three quartets of WoO 36 are in three movements. Material from the C Major Trio was subsequently used in the Piano Sonatas, Op. 2, Nos. 1 and 3. These are the only works Beethoven composed for this ensemble, which he abandoned for the piano trio after moving to Vienna.
The E flat Major quartet is unusual in that its slow introductory movement jumps without pause into an Allegro con spirito in E flat minor. The E flat minor movement, in sonata form, features a concise development, but contains some adventurous passages in the recapitulation. The final movement is a set of six variations in an ornamental style on a high-Classical-era theme with two eight-measure segments similar to the Piano Trio, WoO 37. After the variations have run their course, the theme returns, only slightly rearranged, followed by a coda reminiscent of the first variation.
It is interesting to note the drama with which Beethoven already uses the dynamic range (pianissmo to fortissimo) and the gravitas resulting from the use of the bizarre key of Eb minor in the Allegro--(a key Beethoven would have encountered from his study of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier). Even in his youth, Beethoven is already venturing out of the Classical mold in search of his inner-Romanticism.
- from notes by Angela Hewitt & Daniel Müller-Schott
In questa tomba oscura, WoO 133, is the result of a musical challenge issued in 1807–1808, when composers were invited to set this poem by Giuseppe Carpani (1752-1825), an Italian poet resident in Vienna. Sixty-three of them obliged, but Beethoven’s setting is the only memorable version of this poem on an antique theme – the dead lover’s reproach to the "ingrata", the faithless woman. The dark, chromatic liquefaction of the texture in mid-song, at the plea to allow “the naked ghosts” their peace in the tomb, is extraordinary.
Gesang aus der Ferne, WoO 137, is a setting of a text from the third edition of Christian Reissig’s Blümchen der Einsamkeit; it became "Anxiety of Absence, a favorite Arietta ... by Ludwig van Beethoven" when it was published in London in 1810, the same year as its initial appearances in Leipzig and Vienna. Beethoven begins with an extended piano introduction, quite like the start of a sonatina, followed by the same strains varied and extended as the singer remembers how joyous, how dance-like, how full of nightingale song his life was when his sweetheart was with him. But now the music changes key, meter, tempo, and mood; they are apart, and longing drives him into the heights to yearn for her. The vows that he has never loved anyone as he loves her lead to an ecstatic cadence on the crucial verb "loved;" the final section is a quicker, livelier variation of the initial passage as the lover begs his distant sweetheart to transform his cottage into a temple of contentment, with her as its goddess.
Three Songs, Op. 83
Beethoven and Goethe - their encounter is one of the most fascinating moments in Beethoven’s biography. It is characterized by interest, but reservation, on the part of Goethe and by an intense attempt to come to terms with Goethe on Beethoven’s part. A close and lasting personal relationship or artistic collaboration was never to develop out of it. The first and last time they ever met, in the summer of 1812 at the Bohemian baths, deep irritations did not fail to surface. Beethoven had already read and studied Goethe’s works intensively during his youth in Bonn, long before their first personal encounter. His first Goethe settings were produced around 1790. Beethoven announced his Music to Egmont in a first letter to the poet in the spring of 1811 with the following words: "I am only able to approach you with the greatest veneration and with an inexpressibly deep feeling for your glorious creations." He had already set 18 texts by Goethe; two others were to follow. Goethe therefore occupies a privileged position in Beethoven’s vocal works.
The following discussion of Op. 83 is written by the American musicologist and lieder specialist Susan Youens.
The three songs of Op. 83 – Wonne der Wemuth, Sehnsucht, and Mit einem gemalten Band – are Beethoven’s last Goethe songs, composed in 1810 just after his music for "Egmont" and published in 1811 with a dedication to Antonie Brentano. It was perhaps in the autumn of 1811 that mutual reverence between Beethoven and Brentano flowered into passion, destined for sublimation into exalted friendship. Little more than a year later, she and her husband would return to his native city of Frankfurt, and it seems unlikely that Antonie and Beethoven ever saw one another again. For a poem that never progressed beyond its first line, Michelangelo once wrote, "Du' occhi asciutti, e' mie, fan tristi el mondo" (Two dry eyes, mine, make the world sad), and Goethe several centuries later said much the same thing in Wonne der Wehmut: "eyes filled with tears see wonders while dry eyes can only contemplate a wasteland." Beethoven’s setting, with its repeated "falling tears" motif in the piano, is one of his most important and beautiful songs. One notes in particular the harmonies that underscore the adjectives "öde" and "todt" (desolate, dead), the expressive fragmentation of the vocal melody in places, and the heartfelt emphasis on "unglücklicher [Liebe]" (unhappy love). The ingenuity with which Beethoven spins out the precisely paired rhythms of his first two measures into longer and longer vocal phrases is marvelous; the sense of something uncoiling, releasing itself, is palpable.
Sehnsucht, or "Longing," is a crucial concept in late 18th/early 19th century Romantic poetics, and Goethe’s initial questions, “Was zieht mir das Herz so? / Was zieht mich hinaus?” (What tugs at my heart so? What draws me outside?), are its classic formulation ... but here, the longing is for the sweetheart, not for distant Romantic realms. The opening vocal phrase, in an ingenious conception, is drawn upwards by ever-increasing melodic leaps, and the nifty idea recurs four times thereafter; this is a strophic song in which the singer’s melody stays the same, the only exception being the turn from the key of B minor in the first four verses (the "schwarze Tonart," Beethoven called this key, traditionally associated with grief and mourning) to a brighter B Major for the reunion with the sweetheart in the final stanza.
Mit einem gemalten Band is a reminder of Goethe's early allegiance to the Anakreontiker, those earlier eighteenth-century German poets who took their cue from the Greek poet Anacreon (6th century B.C.). He, and they, sang of Eros, springtime, wine, crickets, roses, of reveling in all life’s beauty despite Time and the ticking clock which bear us to our deaths. Goethe did not remain long among the neo-Anacreontic poets, but before he left their company, he endowed the repertory with several masterpieces, and this is one of them. Until the final stanza, the sentiments seem conventional sugary compliments to a sweetheart (although one notes the doubled artistry of painted ribbon and written poem ... one creates art to celebrate love and Nature), but at the end, Goethe shatters the rococo conventions. The sweetheart is bidden to feel what he feels, to give him her hand freely, to know that what links them is an enduring human bond with nothing frivolous about it. Beethoven got the point: the song trips along in an enchantingly mellifluous, pastoral vein until the first statement of the crucial verb in the imperative, "Fühle" (Feel). When that word (indicative of the Goethean revolution in poetry) first appears, it is set apart by rests on either side, while the other crucial verb, "verbindet" (that which binds us) is the occasion for a soaring mini-cadenza.
- Ryan Turner (2011)