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ClassicsOnline Home » BEETHOVEN: Cello Sonatas Nos. 1 and 2
"some crisp playing"
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827) Cello Sonatas Op.
5Handel and Mozart Variations
In 1796 Beethoven set out on a concert tour, following a route
similar to that taken by Mozart and Prince Karl Lichnowsky in 1789, passing through
Prague, Dresden and Leipzig, on the way to Berlin. Mozart had derived little material
profit from his journey, although his Prussian quartets were composed on his return with
the cello-playing heir to Frederick the Great, King Frederick William II, in mind. He had
found little good to say about the Potsdam musical establishment. The French cellist and
teacher of the king, Jean Pierre Duport, he had met in Paris in 1778, and described him in
a letter to his father as very conceited. He found the Prussian court musical
establishment not beyond criticism, if we accept the account of the matter recalled by his
future brother-in-law. Duport had by this time been joined by his younger brother, also a
cellist, and from 1787 was director of the court musical establishment.
Beethoven was pleased by his reception at Potsdam and seems not
to have entertained the reservations Mozart had expressed. He played for the king his two
new cello sonatas, probably written for Duport, who performed them with the composer, and
was rewarded with a golden snuff-box filled with louis d'or, a present of which he
remained proud. The sonatas were dedicated to King Frederick William. The Twelve
Variations on a theme from Handel's oratorio Judas
Maccabaeus, WoO 45, belong to the same year, and the set was published in 1797
with a dedication to Princess Christiane von Lichnowsky, wife of Mozart's former
travelling companion. The Twelve Variations on Mozart's popular Ein Madchen oder Weibchen, from Die Zauberflöte, were also written in 1796 and
published in Vienna in 1798. The third set of variations for cello and piano, again based
on a melody from Die Zauberflöte, is the
group of seven variations on Bei Mannern, welche Liebe
fuhlen, written in 1801, and published the following year with a dedication to
Countess von Browne.
The first of the two Opus 5 sonatas, the Sonata in F major,
extends traditional practice, to the surprise of some of Beethoven's less sophisticated
contemporaries, in allowing a balanced share of the music to both cello and piano. The
cello had, in any case, tended to occupy a subsidiary role in the sonata repertoire, its
range presenting certain technical difficulties, admirably solved by Beethoven, at least
in the sonatas and variations. The sonata opens with a slow introductory passage of 34
bars, leading to an Allegro of prodigal melodic invention. The opening theme is given
first to the piano, echoed by the cello, followed by a second subject moving through new
keys, before the piano is permitted a passage of concertante display. The central
development opens with the first subject now in A major and then in D minor, before other
harmonic possibilities are explored, followed by the customary return of the opening
material. A second inversion of the tonic chord heralds a cadenza, opening contrapuntally
and containing a sudden Adagio, succeeded by a rapid and brief excursion into triplet
rhythms, before the final appearance of the principal theme. The cello opens the second
movement, closely followed in canonic imitation by the piano, with suggestions of a very
different key. Here again the concertante element prevails, with an infectiously rhythmic
B flat minor central episode, with the plucked notes of the cello providing an
accompaniment, when the piano has the theme. Momentary relaxation in mood gives way to a
burst of final brilliance, firmly establishing the tonic chord.
The Sonata in G minor, Op.
5, No.2, again has only two movements. An expressive and more extended Adagio
is imbued with drama, alternating with moments of lyricism. There is a sudden silence
before the lively Allegro, in which the two instruments share the opening theme, with the
cello taking initial charge of the second element. The central development opens, as the
Allegro had at first seemed to, in C minor, and is followed by the expected
recapitulation, including the dramatic return of the closing section, followed by a coda
of more varied mood. The final rondo is started by the piano, with the cello offering its
own version of the first episode, before being permitted a full share of the principal
theme. The heart of the movement is in the key of C major, but the tonic major is finally
re-established in music of continued concertante brilliance.
Beethoven was a master of improvisation, an art that was a
necessary skill in a concert pianist, since extemporised variations were a common part of
public performance. His first written variations for piano were written when he was twelve
and his last in 1823. The first group of variations for cello and piano uses the well
known See here the conqu'ring hero comes, from Handel's oratorio Judas Maccabaeus. Alter the theme itself, the piano
starts a first variation, followed by cello embroidery of the melody. Moods vary as the
possibilities of the theme are investigated, leading, in customary variation style, to an
Adagio and a final Rondo.
The first set of Magic Flute variations of 1796, based on Ein Madchen oder Weibchen, again transforms the
original melody of Papageno into music that is characteristic in every way of Beethoven,
sometimes stating the melody in grandiose terms, sometimes with tense rhythmic energy and
sometimes in the capricious style of a scherzo. Once again the variations include an
Adagio and a final Rondo.
The second group of Mozart variations for cello and piano,
based on Pamina's aria Bei Mannern, welche Liebe fuhlen,
a contemporary show-stopper in Vienna, allows a greater degree of equality between the two
instruments than in the earlier sets, sharing the burden and including a variation with
all the marks of a scherzo and a succeeding one in soberer mood.
The Hungarian cellist Csaba Onczay, awarded the Liszt Prize and
winner of the 1973 Pablo Casals Competition in Budapest, followed by first prize in the
Rio de Janeiro Villa Lobos International Competition in 1976, was born in Budapest in
1946. A professor at the Ferenc Liszt Academy in Budapest, he was trained as a pupil of
Antal Friss at the Budapest Academy, where he won the Grand Prize on his graduation in
1970. He went on to distinguish himself in Andre Navarra's master-class at Siena and
continued his studies at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow. Csaba Onczay has enjoyed
a busy career at home and abroad, throughout Europe and in the United States of America.
He has recorded for the Austrian and the French radio, as well as for Hilversum, RIAS and
RAI, while his performances of the cello concertos of Lalo. Schumann and Lendvay have been
released on the Hungaroton label. Csaba Onczay plays a cello by Matteo Gofriller bought
for him by the Hungarian Government.
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 Pál Kadosa, becoming assistant to the latter on his
graduation in 1974. Jandó 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 has recorded all Mozart's piano concertos and sonatas
for Naxos. Other recordings for the Naxos label include the concertos of Grieg and
Schumann as well as Rachmaninov's Second concerto
and Paganini Rhapsody and the complete piano
sonatas of Beethoven.
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BEETHOVEN: Cello Sonatas Nos. 1 and 2