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ClassicsOnline Home » BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonatas Nos. 17, 21, and 26
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827)
Ludwig van Beethoven was born in the Rhineland town of Bonn in 1770, the eldest surviving son of Johann van Beethoven and Maria Magdalena Keverich. His grandfather, after whom he was named, had joined the chapel of the Elector of Cologne in 1733 as a singer, marrying in the same year. In 1761 he became Kapellmeister, a position he held until his death in 1773.
Kapellmeister Ludwig van Beethoven had been unfortunate in his marriage. His wife became incurably addicted to drink, and was for many years confined in a convent asylum. The only surviving son of the marriage, Johann van Beethoven, the composer's father, was trained as a musician, but was never able to match the ability of his father, later preferring to follow his mother's example, a course of action that soured the composer's childhood and brought early responsibility for two young brothers, an obligation that Beethoven continued to fulfil in his own way in later life.
Beethoven's early career as a musician was in the service of the Archbishop of Cologne, as a player of the violin and viola, as deputy organist to his teacher, Gottlob Neefe, as harpsichordist in the theatre, and, above all, as a potential virtuoso of the keyboard. In 1787 he travelled to Vienna, hoping to take lessons from Mozart, but was recalled to Bonn when his mother became seriously ill. The journey served no purpose but to incur debt, as the Elector was later to point out.
It was possibly through the young Count Waldstein that it was decided that Beethoven should return to Vienna, where he might study with Haydn, who had passed through Bonn on his first visit to England and been entertained by the electoral orchestra on his return.
In November 1792 Beethoven set out for Vienna, with introductions from Count Waldstein that were to stand him in good stead. He took lessons from Haydn, later claiming to have learned nothing, and from Albrechtsberger and the distinguished court composer Antonio Salieri. Waldstein saw him as a successor to Mozart in the closely related and complementary fields of composition and virtuoso performance, and his foresight was justified.
It has been customary to divide Beethoven's career into three periods, early, middle and late, or into four, if we are to include the even earlier years in Bonn. The piano sonatas reflect this view of his development as a composer, and incidentally mirror technical developments in the pianoforte itself.
Sonata in C Major, Opus 53 (Waldstein)
Allegro con brio
Introduzione: Motto adagio
Rondo: Allegretto moderato
The Sonata in C, Opus 53, dedicated to Count Waldstein, was written in 1803 and 1804 and published in the following year. The work is on a grand scale and exploits remarkably the sonorities of the piano and the form of the classical sonata. The first movement demonstrates both developments, in its range, with a second subject in the unusual key of E Major, an extended development and coda, and startling dynamic contrasts. The original slow movement was discarded as too long, and published separately as Andante favori, to be replaced by the present Introduzione that ushers in the final rondo, with its principal theme of winning simplicity the source of much later activity.
Sonata in D Minor, Opus 31 No.2 (The Tempest)
Largo - Allegro Adagio
The Sonata in D Minor, Opus 31 No.2, was written in 1802 and published the following year, its popular name, "The Tempest", has more justification than many such titles, derived from a remark made by the composer in reply to a question about the meaning of the sonata, and the Opus 57 sonata, to which he is said to have told his interlocutor to read Shakespeare's Tempest. The German musicologist Arnold Schering took matters further in providing a literary model for each sonata, comparing the Wa1dstein Sonata to Homer's Odyssey, Book 23. Sir Donald Tovey, in his commentary on the sonatas, suggests that those anxious to find Ariel and Caliban, the good and the villainous of the play in this sonata might ''as well confine their attention to the exploits of the Scarlet Pimpernel when the Eroica or the C minor symphony is being played".
The first movement of the sonata opens with a slow arpeggio followed by a rapid theme soon to be interrupted. The second movement, in B flat, contrasts upper and lower registers of the instrument in a way that must have enabled Beethoven to display his command of singing tone on the piano, one of the features of his playing praised by his contemporaries. The final movement is in tripartite sonata form with all the energy of a perpetuum mobile.
Sonata in E Flat Major, Opus 81a (Les Adieux)
Adagio - Allegro (Les adieux)
Andante espressivo (L 'absence )
Vivacissimament (Le retour)
For the Sonata in E Flat, Opus 81a, Beethoven provided a programme revealed in the titles of the movements - Das Lebewohl (Les adieux), Die Abwesenheit (L'absence) and Das Wiedersehen (Le retour). He wrote on the manuscript of the first movement a further explanation: "The Farewell, Vienna, May 4,1809, on the departure of His Imperial Highness the Archduke Rudolph" and on the final movement: "The Arrival of His Imperial Highness the revered Archduke Rudolph, January 30, 1810". The Empress and the Imperial family had been compelled to take refuge outside Vienna, while Arch-duke Maximilian vainly attempted the city's defence against the French armies, which were to occupy the city, as old Haydn lay dying. The opening phrase of the sonata follows the intonation of the word "Lebewohl", as the composer bids farewell to his most distinguished pupil, patron and friend, following this introductory passage with a sonata-form Allegro. The period of waiting for the Archduke's return, in the slow movement, is followed by an expression of lively joy in the finale.
Jeno Jando was born at Pécs, in south Hungary", in 1952, He started to learn the piano when he was seven and later studied at the Ferenc Liszt Academy of Music under Katalin Nemes and Pál Kadosa, becoming assistant to the latter on his graduation in 1974. Jando has won a number of piano competitions in Hungary and abroad, including first prize in the 1973 Hungarian Piano Concours and a first prize in the chamber music category at the Sydney International Piano Competition in 1977. In addition to his many appearances in Hungary, he has played widely abroad in Eastern and Western Europe, in Canada and in Japan.
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BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonatas Nos. 17, 21, and 26