Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 9 in A Major, op. 47, “Kreutzer”
Notes by Ryan Turner
In March 1803, Beethoven’s patron Prince Lichnowsky introduced him to the 24-year-old West Indian violin virtuoso George Polgreen Bridgetower (1779–1860). Impressed with this "mulatto" violinist, Beethoven arranged to give a public concert with Bridgetower and immediately set to work on a violin sonata for the occasion. Because time was short, Beethoven drew from sketches for two movements begun earlier that year, and added a finale that he had originally written in 1802 for the Violin Sonata in A Major No. 3, op. 31. Yet Beethoven barely finished the piece in time, and summoned his student and friend Ferdinand Ries at 4:30 a.m. one morning to copy out the violin part of the first movement. Bridgetower had to read the middle variation movement from Beethoven’s messy manuscript at the concert, while the composer played from sketches.
So impressed was Beethoven with Bridgetower’s playing that he wrote on a draft of the score in quasi-Italian—“Sonata mulattica composta per il mulatto Brischdauer, gran pazzo e compositore mulat-tico,” meaning roughly “A sonata of mixed colors, for the mulatto Bridgetower, big crazy person and mixed-up composer.” However, due to a quarrel “about a girl” between Beethoven and Bridgetower before he left Vienna, Beethoven ended up dedicating the sonata to French violinist Rodolphe Kreutzer. Ironically, Kreutzer found this music beyond his understanding and never performed the sonata.
After completing the “Kreutzer” sonata, Beethoven spent the next six months working on his heroic “Eroica” Symphony. Although it does not possess the same epic flavor, Beethoven acknowledged a similar quality when he labeled it: “written in a highly concertante style, almost in the manner of a concerto.” Russian author Leo Tolstoy also recognized its force and scope when he used the first movement of the “Kreutzer” Sonata in his short story of the same name to incite his tragic hero to a crime of passion.
This is the only Beethoven sonata that opens slowly. The solo violin introduces awkward and strained chords, followed by a similar gesture in the piano. The violin plays the opening in a major key, and the piano then reinvents it into a minor key. But what is most intriguing is how the theme concludes with three repeated notes and a resolution down a half-step. This tiny fragment outlines the whole core of the dialogue and relationship between violin and piano that will dominate the entire first movement. A brief moment of repose unveils the chorale-like second theme that soon gives way to the fiery energy of the Presto.
The Andante con variazioni provides gracious relief as the piano introduces the central theme, followed by four lengthy variations. A thunderous chord interrupts the sublime mood of the variations and launches a spinning, witty, final movement based on the rapid dance rhythms of an Italian tarantella.
An die ferne Geliebte, op. 98
Notes by Ryan Turner
Widely considered to be the first ever song cycle, An die ferne Geliebte (To the Distant Beloved) represents the first time a major composer organized a group of songs with piano accompaniment into a coherent whole. The theme of the distant beloved loomed large in Beethoven’s lieder long before the composition of this, his only song cycle. A number of songs previously performed in Emmanuel Music’s Beethoven Series deal with the theme of separation: Adelaide (1794-95), An den fernen Geliebten (1809), Lied aus der Ferne (1809), Andenken (1809), Der Jüngling in der Fremde (1809) and Sehnsucht (1810).
In July 1812, Beethoven wrote an anguished letter to his “Immortal Beloved,” a woman whose identity remains unknown and is still a subject for speculation. Although An die ferne Geliebte was composed four years after the anguished letter, there is enough evidence to suggest that he was still obsessed by the unknown woman, and that the cycle was an attempt to banish her from his mind. A month after its composition, Beethoven confided to Ferdinand Ries, the composer and pianist who was his intimate friend, that he had found “only one woman whom I shall doubtless never possess.”
The six songs of An die ferne Geliebte are set to poems by Alois Jeitteles (1794-1858). Jeitteles was a doctor by profession, not a poet. Though Jeitteles’s verse appeared in several almanacs, the poems were never published in book form.
The six songs are sung by a solitary lover seated on a hillside, gazing into the distance and longing for the object of his affection. The lover’s thoughts are then filtered through images of pure, unspoiled nature. The final song brings the listener full cycle, as passages of both text and music from the opening stanza return.
Piano Trio in D Major after Symphony No. 2, op. 36
Notes by Elizabeth Schwarm Glesner
A common and popular practice during the Classical era was the transcribing of large-scale orchestral works for chamber resources. Successful new transcribed symphonies or concertos were offered for sale by publishers in order to broaden the audience for the music and to accommodate smaller, more numerous chamber groups in a domestic setting. Most of these arrangements were the work of arrangers, not of composers. But in the case of the Symphony No. 2 in D Major, op. 36, Beethoven himself prepared the arrangement soon after the first performance of the symphony in 1803.
Beethoven’s Second Symphony is a testimony to extraordinary courage. It dates from the composer’s middle years, the darkest time in what continued to be an unhappy life. Although his career was progressing well, Beethoven’s hearing was failing quickly, and by 1802, he could no longer ignore the approach of deafness. His tortured emotions are preserved in a letter written to his brothers, which has become known as the “Heiligenstadt Testament.” Beethoven wrote that life had become so intolerable as to lead him to consider suicide, but he stayed his hand for, in his own words, “it seemed as if I could not quit this earth until I had produced all I felt within me, and so I continued this wretched life.”
In the last half of his life, Beethoven produced his greatest compositions, including piano sonatas of epic scope and monumental symphonies, which defined what symphonies would become in future years. Yet of all those works, none is more truly heroic than the Second Symphony, which though completed during this traumatic year, shows none of its creator’s torment. Rather, it is filled with sunshine and high spirits. Only a composer of single-minded devotion to his art, who could set aside his own most pressing concerns in favor of artistic goals, could have produced such a symphony at such a time. In that aspect, this charming composition is the essence of heroism.
The Second Symphony premiered in Vienna April 5, 1803. Beethoven himself conducted the program, which also featured the premieres of the oratorio Christ on the Mount of Olives and the Third Piano Concerto. Public reaction to the work was mixed, and even later performances found little critical consensus. A Leipzig critic went so far as to describe the finale as “a repulsive monster, a wounded tail-lashing serpent, dealing wild and furious blows as it stiffens into its death agony,” yet the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung praised the piece as “a work full of new and original ideas.” That very novelty may have been the source of the differing opinions, for here are early hints of Beethoven’s artistic innovations. It is a composition of greater scope than symphonies by Mozart or Haydn. Its introductions are more lengthy, its concluding codas more extensive, and it anticipates the grandeur of Romantic symphonies yet to come. In addition, in this new work, for the first time, Beethoven dispenses with the formerly standard third movement Minuet, which had been an elegant holdover from the Classical era. He replaces it with a Scherzo (“joke”), a vibrant movement with more verve and energy than some conservative critics might have found quite comfortable. Here was a radical new way to write an established genre, yet for Beethoven, it was merely the beginning.