Violin Sonata No. 6 in A Major, Op. 30, No. 1
The Op. 30 Sonatas for Piano and Violin that Beethoven completed by the time he returned from Heiligenstadt to Vienna in the middle of October 1802 stand at the threshold of a new creative language. Cast in three movements, the overall mood is one of grace, poise, delicacy and warmth. In contrast to the sudden musical outbursts of the other two violin sonatas of Op. 30, the success of the composition is found not in virtuosity, but in its sheer beauty and pastoral nature.
One of the characteristics of this new style was the complete saturation of melody and accompaniment; the genesis of all musical material being a simple rhythmic or melodic kernel that permeates an entire movement. Such is the case in the main, noble theme of the opening movement. Most of the violin line and both hands of the piano are variations derived from either the quick turn figure or the flowing quarter-note motive introduced at the outset.
While Beethoven is often thought of as a "heroic" composer, he had gift for writing lyrical melodies. The second movement’s main theme, an unforgettable, tender melody, resembles a simple Italian aria. Jelly d’Aranyi, the Hungarian violinist who inspired works from Ravel, Bartók, and Vaughan Williams, wrote, "The Adagio is a great favorite of mine. The blend of the two instruments is so perfect a thing. . . The whole movement has such a feeling of tenderness and sorrow it reminds me, if I am allowed the comparison, of Michelangelo’s Pietà, and his unfinished marvel, the Descent of the Cross. I do not want to suggest that this Adagio could be called religious music, I am only thinking in both cases of the expression of infinite tenderness and sorrow, whether put into sound or carved in stone."
Beethoven’s original finale for the A Major Sonata was a large, brilliant and difficult rondo that he abandoned, ultimately using it to cap the "Kreutzer" Sonata. Beethoven crafted a new, gentler theme for a more unassuming subject for the set of variations that closes this elegant sonata.
- Ryan Turner
Der Liebende, WoO 139
Der Liebende, WoO 139 was written in 1809 on texts by Christian Ludwig Reissig. This was one of five settings by Beethoven of works by Reissig in that year. Beethoven would turn to the work of Reissig two more times after 1809. Perhaps Beethoven has found a kindred spirit in Reissig, as the text of Der Liebende mourns unrequited love.
- Ryan Turner
Die laute Klage, WoO 135
The text of Die laute Klage, WoO 135, possibly composed in late 1814 or early 1815, comes from a compilation of Oriental poetic paraphrases in Johann Gottfried Herder’s 1792 Zerstreute Blätter. This complaint to the turtle dove who robs the lamenting lover of oblivion in sleep is filled with eloquent harmonic and melodic details: the dark chord that enshrouds the “verschlossene Brust” is one, and so too is the huge outcry against love in mid-song and again near the end, before the song sinks to its mournful end.
- Susan Youens
An die Hoffnung, Op. 94
Beethoven met Christoph August Tiedge, the poet whose "Lied an die Hoffnung" had inspired An die Hoffnung, Op. 32 (heard in our next Beethoven concert) in the summer of 1811. The text comes from Urania: On God, Immortality, and Freedom in six cantos which refers to the muse of astronomy and astrology, and, from the Renaissance on, the muse of Christian poets as well ("Urania" means "heavenly"). In October of that year, Beethoven wrote to Tiedge with a request for a new copy of Urania because he could not locate one; Tiedge obliged with a new edition from 1808, and Beethoven found in it five additional lines with which to begin his second, thoroughly reconceived setting of An die Hoffnung, published as Op. 94 in April 1816. This introduction puts Hope in a different context from the earlier version because it begins with one of the Enlightenment’s foremost questions: "Is there a God?" Tiedge’s persona gives Religion’s stock reply, "Mankind must hope! Do not ask!", but Beethoven clearly took the quest for answers to such grave existential matters seriously indeed. The introduction has a key signature but is so thoroughly shot through with chromaticism and enharmony that we do not know where we are tonally (or metaphysically)–until the end, when the certainty of Hope brings us to a lighter, sweeter place. In this extended setting, the invocation of midnight and Fate is accompanied by Beethoven’s "cosmic," full-textured, throbbing chords in the piano, while the hope for "an angel above who acknowledges our tears" elicits a grand, glorious melodic vault into the Empyrean, repeated numerous times. The aria-like song ends with a final soft acclamation to Hope.
- Susan Youens
Freudvoll und Leidvoll, Op. 84, No. 4
In 1809 Beethoven eagerly accepted a commission to write a score for Goethe’s 1788 historical tragedy Egmont. The play, only a mild success, dealt with the most illustrious victim of Spanish tyranny in the Netherlands, treacherously seized by the Duke of Alba and executed in Brussels. Beethoven, responding to the clash between good and evil, between liberty and tyranny; composes music projecting Egmont to the audience as a far more heroic figure than Geothe made him. Freudvoll und Leidvoll, Op. 84, No. 4, is one of two songs sung by Clara, Egmont’s fictional love. This moving outpouring of love foreshadows Clara’s death by poisoning herself before Egmont’s execution.
- Ryan Turner
Piano Trio No. 11 in G Major, Op. 121a
10 Variations on "Ich bin der Schneider Kakadu"
The piano trio evolved from home entertainment by amateur musicians, but Beethoven knew that to use the trio for variations on popular music was lucrative. Such pieces were important as well for displaying pianistic effects and instrumental virtuosity. The Piano Trio No. 11 in G Major, Op. 121a, is a set of variations on "Ich bin der Schneider Kakadu" ("I am the tailor, Cockatoo") from Die Schwestern von Prag (The Sisters of Prague), a singspiel by Wenzel Müller (1767-1835) that premiered in Vienna in 1794. The gentleman, Cockatoo, proclaims his trade as did Papageno in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte: "Der Vogellänger bin ich." The variations appeared in print only in 1824 though they may have been written as early as 1804 and probably revised around 1817. A year after publication, Schott published the Opferlied for soprano, chorus and orchestra with the same opus number, requiring later publishers to append an "a" to the Trio and "b" to the Opferlied. Beethoven’s Kakadu variations were composed in the same year as the Waldstein Sonata, Op. 53. However, the variations show none of the harmonic exploration or motivic manipulation characteristic of the sonata, and are quite conventional, clearly steeped in Classical era proportions and symmetry. After a slow (adagio) and foreboding introduction, the somewhat pedestrian theme is presented. What follows are ten variations with clever, even sly, transformations that give solo turns to each of the three instruments.
- Ryan Turner
Leonard Stein Anagrams for Piano
It has been a privilege, melancholic and joyful, to make these Leonard Stein Anagrams for Piano Spheres, a chance to reflect on a rich twenty-year friendship.
Leonard Stein was a direct link to Schoenberg, and to all of the performers and composers of the Second Viennese School. He was also constantly alert to everything that was happening in concert music bringing his wit, critical intelligence, passion, and high standards to bear, in his disarmingly informal style. Just his voice on the phone could make the day—when he called to celebrate his mutual birthday with Rose Mary Harbison, or just to report west-coast news, with his unique blend of enthusiasm and scepticism.
During one of his appearances at the Token Creek Festival, Leonard was delighted to discover our tradition of making anagrams from names of the summer’s composers and performers. Leonard Stein (and Arnold Schoenberg) yielded nice results. When I began this piece, I found, in Leonard’s hand, six of them, based on his name, which he had discovered the old (pre-computer way) repositioning the letters, crossing out each one he’d used. Naturally, I’ve used all six of his "finds" in the piece. At least four interesting ones didn’t go in, held perhaps for another piece.
These short movements, which are interrelated, use no letter-to-pitch correspondences. They react to the movement titles, assembling fleeting images of Leonard, present and absent.
- John Harbison