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ClassicsOnline Home » BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonatas Nos. 12, 16 and 18
The Daily Times, Salisbury (USA)
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827)
Sonata No.12 in A Flat Major, Opus 26
Sonata No.16 in G Major, Opus 31 No.1
Sonata No.18 in E Flat Major, Opus 31
Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Bonn in
December, 1770, the son of Johann van Beethoven, a singer in the service of the
Archbishop of Cologne, and, more important, the grandson of Ludwig van
Beethoven, Kapellmeister to the same patron. It was the very distinction and
strength of character of the head of the family that lay at the root of Johann
van Beethoven's inadequacy as a father and final professional incompetence. The
elder Ludwig died in 1773, but was to remain for his grandson a powerful
posthumous influence, while Johann slid further into habits of dissipation,
with Ludwig, his eldest surviving son, assuming in 1789 the role of head of the
family, with responsibility for his two younger brothers.
In Bonn Beethoven received erratic
musical training at home, followed by a much more thorough course of study with
Christoph Gottlob Neefe, who was appointed court organist in 1781. In 1784
Beethoven entered the paid service of the Archbishop as deputy court organist,
employed as a viola-player or as cembalist in the court orchestra, and turning
his hand increasingly to composition. A visit to Vienna in 1788 for the purpose
of study with Mozart led to nothing, cut short by the illness and subsequent
death of his mother, but in 1792 he was to return to the imperial capital,
again with his patron's encouragement, to take lessons with Haydn.
Beethoven came to Vienna with the highest
recommendations and was quick to establish himself as a pianist and composer.
From Haydn he claimed to have learned nothing, but he was to undertake further
study with Johann Georg Albrechtsberger in counterpoint and with the court
Kapellmeister Antonio Salieri in vocal and dramatic setting. More important he
was to attach himself to a series of noble patrons who coupled generosity with
forbearance throughout his life, the latter quality often much needed.
As a young composer in Bonn Beethoven had
followed the trends of his time. In Vienna he was increasingly to develop his
own unmistakable and original musical idiom, sometimes strange and uncouth by
the standards of the older generation, but suggesting completely new worlds to
others. It was an apparent stroke of fate that played an essential part in this
process. By the turn of the century Beethoven had begun to experience bouts of
deafness. It was this inability to hear that inevitably directed his attention
to composition rather than performance, as the latter activity became
increasingly impossible. Deafness was to isolate him from society and to
accentuate still further his personal eccentricities of behaviour, shown in his
suspicious ingratitude to those who helped him and his treatment of his nephew
Karl and his unfortunate sister-in-law.
In Vienna Beethoven lived through
turbulent times. The armies of Napoleon, once admired by Beethoven as an
enlightened republican, until he had himself crowned as emperor, were to occupy
the imperial capital, and war brought various changes of fortune to the
composer's friends and supporters. The last twelve years of his life were spent
in the relative political tranquillity that followed Napoleon's final defeat, a
period in which the freedom of thought that had characterised the reign of
Joseph II was replaced by the repression of his successors, anxious to prevent
a recurrence of the unfortunate events that had caused such damage in France.
Beethoven survived as an all-licensed eccentric, his bellowed political
indiscretions tolerated, while others, apparently saner, were subject to the
attention of the secret police. He died in March, 1827, his death the occasion
for public mourning in Vienna at the passing of a figure whose like the city
was not to see again.
The Sonata in A flat major, Opus 26,
begins to explore, for Beethoven, new ground in the piano sonata. The first
movement is in the form of an Andante theme followed by five variations. The
second movement is a Scherzo, its contrasting Trio in a lilting D flat major.
This is followed by the famous Funeral March on the death of a hero, the kind
of theme popular in republican circles and to occur elsewhere in Beethoven,
notably in the slow movement of the Eroica Symphony. It was, however, played at
Beethoven's own funeral in 1827. The final Rondo has been seen by some as an
answer to the composer-pianist Cramer, a potential rival in popularity. The
sonata was dedicated to Beethoven's friend and patron Prince Karl von
The three sonatas of Opus 31 were
completed in 1802 and published the following year in Zurich. Some have seen
the first of the group, the Sonata in G major, as relatively conventional.
The third of the Opus 31 sonatas, the
Sonata in E flat major, has become known to some as La chasse or Jagd-Sonate,
because of a supposed association with the hunt in the last movement.
Jeno Jandó 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 Pal
Kadosa, becoming assis1ant to the latter on his graduation in 1974. Jand6 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.
He is currently engaged in a project to
record all of Beethoven's piano solo works for Naxos. Other recordings for the
Naxos label include the concertos.
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BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonatas Nos. 12, 16 and 18