Violin Sonata No. 10 in G Major, op. 96, “The Cockcrow”
If there were any logic in the way that popular musical compositions get nicknamed, Opus 96 would be known as the “Archduke” Sonata, by analogy with its companion piece, the “Archduke” Trio, Opus 97. Beethoven composed both works in 1812, delayed publication of both until 1816, and dedicated both to his student and patron, Archduke Rudolf. Both pieces also occupy an interesting position on the cusp between what has traditionally been called “middle period” and “late period” Beethoven. Though they grow out of the lyrical side of the composer’s musical persona, they already anticipate the more compact forms of the later years. And they downplay strongly asserted, dramatized conflicts of opposing keys, the characteristic that in the popular mind is synonymous with the image of the “two-fisted composer.”
The opening movement of Opus 96 is marked Allegro moderato, and its character throughout is songful. Few large sonata compositions have ever begun with such an unprepossessing, even offhand, beginning as the first phrase of this work, a little warm-up phrase for the unaccompanied violin. But the piano echoes it at once and both instruments extend it in an expansive, unhurried cantabile. Expansive in feeling but brief in extent, for soon Beethoven engineers an entirely straightforward--almost perfunctory--modulation to the dominant, where the piano introduces the secondary theme in a dotted marchlike figure over triplets in the violin.
Now comes the surprise: the presentation of the two principal thematic ideas of the movement has occupied nearly sixty measures, yet we gradually discover that we are only two-thirds of the way through the exposition. Beethoven creates a surprising expansion at this point with harmonic digressions and feints at closure. But in fact the exposition runs seamlessly into its own repetition (the first time) and then on into the development (the second time) without a firm cadence. The development section, too, remains lyrical in character, with little sense of the dynamic and aggressive search for the home key that characterizes, say, the Eroica or the Fifth symphonies. In fact, we are poised on the threshold of the home key and anticipate its immediate return when Beethoven suddenly draws back to sidle home quietly eight bars later, as if he no longer needs to hit us over the head with the power of the return home, but simply wants to emphasize its utter naturalness. The recapitulation is anything but a simple rehash of the exposition; after a single phrase in the home key of G, it moves off to the submediant, E-flat, to balance a similar move in the exposition (and, incidentally, to anticipate the key of the second movement). But this harmonic adventure necessitates a more elaborate transition to bring the secondary theme back finally in the home key, and justifies the lengthy coda.
The songful slow movement, in E-flat, is progressively decorated in both violin and piano, but never loses sight of its melodic origin through all the imaginative changes of texture. The third movement is a Scherzo and Trio, analogous to the corresponding movement in a symphony. This one, though, is in G minor, a surprising occurrence in a composition based in the major. (From Haydn’s time it was common to have the Trio turn to the minor mode, but the Scherzo itself was almost always in the key and mode of the work as a whole. Here, though, the Scherzo is in G minor, while the Trio takes up once again the key of the second movement, E-flat, which had also appeared prominently in the first movement.)
The last movement has a special character that comes as something of a surprise. It has none of the quality of “triumph after torment” that we so often associate with the typical image of Beethoven. Its discontinuities—changes of tempo from Poco Allegretto to Adagio espressivo to Allegro, finally closing with a brief Poco Adagio—suggest some of Haydn’s “joke” endings. But here there was a specific extra-musical reason for the character of the movement: Beethoven was composing it with a specific violinist in mind, Pierre Rode, a Frenchman and a fine player who gave the first performance of the work with the Archduke. As the composer explained to his patron in a letter: “I have not hurried unduly to compose the last movement merely for the sake of being punctual, the more so as in view of Rode’s playing I have had to give more thought to the composition of this movement. In our Finales we like to have fairly noisy passages, but R[ode] does not care for them—and so I have been rather hampered.” Out of necessity, then, Beethoven crafted a most unusual movement, combining the character of a rondo at moderate tempo with elements of variation, all presented with elegance and grace.
- Notes by Steven Ledbetter
Cello Sonata No. 3 in A Major, op. 69
Beethoven’s third cello sonata, composed in 1807-1808, is quite probably the earliest truly great work written for the medium of cello and piano. It was dedicated to Baron Franz Ignaz von Gleichenstein, himself an able cellist, and was perhaps in fact commissioned by the Baron.
The independence of the cello is stressed in the opening measures, in which the unaccompanied cello plays a graceful, lyrical melody to be answered by the piano in a phrase that seems to have picked up the cello’s air of resignation. After an exchange of roles, Beethoven begins an energetic transition in the minor, in which the syncopated melody is derived from the relaxed opening theme. Throughout the movement the piano never overpowers the cello, since Beethoven manipulates textures with the greatest care and originality, alternating leading melodies in one part or another or combining them contrapuntally.
The scherzo, with its principal theme running headlong one beat before the accompaniment, is a merry chase relieved by a gentler, hymnlike phrase, the character of which dominates the Trio. The Adagio cantabile is but a short introduction to the finale (a departure from the procedure of the Opus 5 sonatas, in which the slow introduction leads into the first movement); it continues the songlike character of the rest of the sonata. The secondary theme provides a wonderful romantic moment, especially in the sigh of the cello’s falling seventh, but it is heard only twice each in exposition and recapitulation; for the rest, Beethoven finds prodigious varieties of material to develop from the principal theme, which remains at the center of attention throughout.
- Notes by Steven Ledbetter
Piano Trio No. 7 in B-flat Major, op. 97, “Archduke”
It is probably the driving power of the Third and Fifth symphonies or the “Appassionata” sonata or the middle period string quartets that most people think of first in association with Beethoven, but he was equally likely to choose a more relaxed and lyrical mood for the presentation of his large-form ideas (this was especially true in his later years). Our understanding the possibilities of sonata form are severely restricted if we neglect the Sixth Symphony, the Violin Concerto, the Opus 78 piano sonata, and, especially, the “Archduke” Trio, Opus 97, with the most relaxed and expansive first movement of all.
The nickname for the composition comes from its dedicatee, Beethoven’s friend, supporter, patron, and occasional pupil, the Archduke Rudolph, younger brother of the Emperor Leopold II. He composed it between March 3 and 26, 1811, apparently with remarkably little difficulty (though he had done some sketching the year before).
We can assume that the Archduke heard the piece not long after it was completed, but the first public performance came three years later, on April 11, 1814, in a charity concert given in a Viennese hotel. The event was notable for being the last time that Beethoven, who was by now profoundly (though not totally) deaf, played the piano in public. We have a description of the event from another composer, Ludwig Spohr: “In forte passages the poor deaf man pounded on the keys until the strings jangled, and in piano he played so softly that whole groups of notes were omitted.”
The music’s relaxed mood does not affect the logic of Beethoven’s structure, though he plays with harmonic relationships more extended than the simple tonic dominant polarity that was inevitable in his earlier years. The broad lyric flow of the opening theme is a far cry from the tension of, say, the fiery Opus 59 string quartets, but it comes from the same world of elevated repose as the main theme of the Violin Concerto. It may feel like a free-flowing lyric invention, yet already in the second half of the first phrase Beethoven continues the line by varying figures already heard in the first two measures. For the simple reason that Schubert continued, in the next decade, with this kind of lyric flow, it is easy to see this movement as one of the harbingers of romanticism. And as the lengthy movement unfolds, Beethoven creates rich textures and visits new keys in ways that always sound fresh and surprising without being hammered home the way they had been in the powerful scores of five to ten years earlier. The return to the home key and the opening theme is no longer a moment of triumphant victory but rather a clearing of the clouds from a mysterious hushed tension, and the theme itself contains subtle variants on its return that continue to be expressed to the end of the movement.
The second movement is a large-scale Scherzo alternating with the contrasting Trio. The Scherzo theme itself is as simple as possible—a rhythmicized major scale heard at first alone in the cello. To the playful lyricism of the Scherzo, the darkly minor Trio is a noteworthy contrast, snaking its way chromatically up and down as a fugato, then exploding in a Viennese waltz figure that alternates through surprising key changes with the fugato motive. Following the return of the Scherzo, the fugato provides the material for the coda.
After so much of the tonic key, in two successive movements, the slow movement is in a very bright D major for a set of variations on a theme presented with a hymnlike scoring in the piano. The statement is followed by four progressively elaborate variations in which Beethoven creates imaginatively varied textures producing a progressively faster surface motion, though the flow of the underlying musical structure remains much the same throughout.
A transition leads directly from the slow movement to the finale. This easy-going sonata-rondo recalls the opening of the first movement in the way both themes open with phrases that move from the home key (B-flat) to the subdominant chord (E-flat). Just when the movement seems about to reach its final main cadence, Beethoven modulates to the surprising key of A major for a lively Presto conclusion in 6/8 time that moves through E-flat eventually back to the home B-flat, for a whirling, galloping close to his final contribution to the repertory of the piano trio.
- Notes by Steven Ledbetter