Sierra Chamber Society Program Notes (Last update 08/05/2006)

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770- 1827)

[Bullet6] Violin Sonata No. 9 in A major Op. 47 Kreutzer (1803)

[Bullet6] String Quartet in F major, Op.59, No. 1 "Russian" (1806)

[Bullet6] String Quartet No. 8 in E minor, Op.59, No 2 (1806)

[Bullet6] Piano Trio in B Flat Major, Op.97, "Archduke" (1811)

[Bullet6] String Quartet in B Flat Major Op. 18, No. 6 La Malinconia (1800)

[Bullet6] String Quartet in E Flat Major, Op. 127 (1825)

[Bullet6] Sonata No. 3 for Pianoforte and Violoncello in A Major Op.69 (1807-8)

[Bullet6] Quartet No. 4 in C Minor, Op. 18 No. 4 (1800)

[Bullet6] Sonata for Violin and Piano in G, Op. 96 (1812)

[Bullet6] Sonata No.5 in F Major for Violin and Piano, Op.24 "Spring" (1801)


Ludwig van Beethoven (1770- 1827)

String Quartet in B Flat Major Op. 18, No. 6

La Malinconia (1800)

 

[Bust]

The B flat major Quartet, despite its designation as number six, was actually the next to last to be composed. The numbers given these six string quartets in no way reflect upon the order of their composition. It is thought that Beethoven placed this work last in the published series because the weight of the final movement La Malinconia (Melancholy) would serve as an apt closing to the entire set of six. Beethoven, who had heretofore designated a single work or a set of three works with an opus number, paid homage to the tradition established by Haydn (who was still alive and composing) and Mozart (dead and decomposing) by writing a set of six quartets as they had done. Being mindful of the works in this medium by these giants, Beethoven did not rush into quartet writing, just as he did not rush into the composition of symphonies. In 1795 he had been commissioned by Count Apponyi (who had commissioned Haydn for quartets and received in 1793 the set: Op. 71, Nos.1-3, and Op.74, Nos.1-3, known as the Apponyi Quartets) for two string quartets and two string pieces. Beethoven fulfilled only half the commission by composing the Trio. Op.3 and the Quintet Op.4., and giving the quartets a pass. All six works in Op.18 were composed between 1798-1800. Joseph de Marliave, in his oft quoted study Beethovens Quartets (1925) comments: "In these works of Beethovens youth, the clarity and freshness of Haydn are found linked with the grace of Mozart, but so far from being a slavish imitation of these two Masters, they form, as it were, the crowning achievement of their art." It should be noted that the young composers hearing was already seriously deteriorating; a fact which he was still trying to hide from even his most intimate friends.

 

The Op. 18 Quartets were dedicated to Prince Franz Joseph Lobkowitz, and are, not surprisingly, known as the "Lobkowitz Quartets"- the same appellation given to the last two quartets by Haydn, whose turn it now was to defer. Though he went on to compose brilliant symphonies (a form which Beethoven had not yet tackled) Papa Haydn retreated from quartet writing. The B flat Quartet , as well as the others in the series, were first performed privately at weekly Friday morning quartet concerts at the home of Prince Karl Lichnowsky, friend and former pupil of Mozart. Both Prince Lobkowitz and Prince Lichnowsky were said to have been excellent musicians; however the string players at these sessions were four virtuosi connected with the musical circle of Count Rasumovsky (to whom Beethoven would dedicate his Op.59 Quartets). First violinist was Ignaz Schuppanzigh, whose corpulence provided Beethoven with the opportunity for endless "fat jokes," among them a unpublished chorus entitled In Praise of the Fat One, and the sobriquet "Milord Falstaff." Despite the composers tiresome and relentless jests, Schuppanzigh remained a faithful friend and performer of this demanding composers demanding music, from first (Op.18) to last (Op.135). Second violinist was Louis Sina; Franz Weiss, viola, and Anton Kraft, violoncello. On the occasion when one of these players was absent, Prince Lichnowsky would sit in.

 

The B flat Quartet opens with a short and lively movement . Again, de Marliave;"...the gay principle theme, so true to quartet style, recalls Haydn, while the bridge passage recalls Mozart." However, he also finds this the weakest movement of the quartet: "...the passive acceptance of the classical form is the weak point of the Allegro con brio; the working out of repeats according to rule involves the recurrence of the first theme four times in succession , almost without modification , with an inevitably monotonous effect." Of the second movement Adagio, de Marliave comments; " At the writing of this slow movement, Beethoven must have been enjoying one of the periods of relaxation that he was so rarely to experience during his life. "As for the third movement Scherzo, I quote Robert Haven Schauffer from his book Beethoven: The Man Who Freed Music (1929) : " In the Scherzo of the B flat Quartet we catch Beethoven in the act of stealing the Twentieth Centurys thunder by inventing Jazz.(Everyone knows that Jelly Roll Morton did that). For this Scherzo is brimful of the subtle, catchy syncopations, the bizarre wit, and the perversely independent part writing which most people imagine to be the popular invention of the 1920s." An exaggeration to be sure, but this movement, short as it is , is recognized as the most original of the entire set.

 

As for the finale, it is from this movement that the quartets sub-title La Malinconia (Melancholy) derives. Beethoven provides written instructions in the score as to how he wants this section performed: Questo pezzo si deve trattare colla piu gran delicatezza. (This piece must be played with the greatest refinement). In his Guide to Chamber Music (1985), Melvin Berger comments: "From the point of view of musical development , this introduction is decades ahead of the rest of Op. 18. In some ways it presages the Late Quartets of the 1820s,with its moving evocation of grief and despair; it provides, as well, an insight into the depths of Beethovens emotional state." This Adagio forms an introduction to a lively peasant dance, Allegretto quasi allegro, which forms the main body of the movement, whose gaiety is twice interrupted by strains of La Malinconia, a reminder of the composers personal tragedy as he observes the lively Dance of Life.

 

CORRECTION. An error appeared in the program notes for the last concert. A computer glitch, no doubt. (No Doubt! -ed.) In the notes concerning Til Eulenspiegel, Etwas Anders, it was stated that the arranger of the work, one Franz Hasenohrl,- went by the pseudonym "Bunny Ears." This is hardly the case; while his last name (there is an umlaut over the "o") can be translated into English as "Bunny Ears" or even "Rabbit Earlets," he did use a pseudonym , which was: "HOHRL" .

1996-97 Season, Program IV, Sunday April 6, 1997

Back to the top of this page

Back to "Program Notes by Joseph Way"

Back to Richard's Home Page


Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

String Quartet in E Flat Major, Op. 127 (1825)

 

Most Honored Milord! Vienna, Feb. 1825

 

[Ludwig]

Your Eminence may perform the Quartet on Sunday, two weeks from today. I was unable to give it to you sooner because I have had a great deal of work to attend to, and only one copyist to cope with it; and also my far from flourishing circumstances, which make it necessary to look after only the most pressing things, are to blame. But the Quartet will not be published for some time, and so Your Eminence can have sole rights to it "in loco".

Your Eminence has not sent me news about the concerts, so we shall hear nothing about them at all. Farewell.

As soon as I have perfected my machine, by which you can be hoisted up to the fourth floor in comfort, I shall let you know.

Yours,

Beethoven

 

The Quartet Beethoven writes of is the Op. 127. It was one of three, the first of the late quartets commissioned by Prince Galitzen. The "Most Honored Milord" to whom the letter is addressed is Ignaz Schuppanzigh (1776-1830) first violinist of the Schuppanzigh Quartet; whom, because he was enormously fat was called by Beethoven "Milord Falstaff" Thus, the remark about the "machine" to hoist him up to Beethovens fourth floor apartment.

 

It might not be surprising to learn that having had only two weeks to rehearse this new work, the premiere performance on March 6, 1825 was not a success. This may have been due to the difficulty of the work itself or to the players lack of adequate preparation for such an undertaking (having received the score at such a late date) or a combination of both factors, Beethoven who was not present at the concert, was furious and laid the blame on Milord Falstaff. Beethoven wrote to his nephew Karl, "The Quartet was a failure the first time that Schuppanzigh played it, for he, being so very stout, needs more time than formerly before he can master anything...many other circumstances contributed to its not succeeding. I predicted this, for although Schuppanzigh and two others draw their pension from princes, his Quartet is no longer what it was when they were all constantly playing together."

 

Schuppanzigh wanted an opportunity to play the work again, but Beethoven instead gave the work over to Joseph Bohm who had been leader of the Quartet Concerts in Vienna (and was, incidentally, the teacher of the great violinist Joseph Joachim). Bohm recounts that (regarding the Quartets poor reception), "Beethoven could have no peace until the disgrace was wiped off. He sent for me the first thing in the morning - in his usual curt way, he said to me, You must play my quartet - and the thing was settled. Neither objections nor doubts could prevail, what Beethoven wanted had to take place, so, I undertook the difficult task."

 

Bohm then goes on to describe the rehearsals for the Quartet. "It was studied industriously and rehearsed frequently under Beethovens own eyes: I said "eyes" intentionally for the unhappy man was so deaf that he could no longer hear the heavenly sound of his compositions. And, yet, rehearsing in his presence was not easy. With close attention, his eyes followed the bows and therefore he was able to judge the smallest fluctuations in tempo or rhythm and correct them immediately."

 

The Quartets performed under Bohms leadership was a great success and led to no less than nine performances of the work (on one occasion twice in the same evening) over the next few weeks. Beethoven was delighted. And it should be noted that, although Beethoven and Ignaz Schuppanzigh had a slight falling out over the premiere of op 127, it was the Schuppanzigh quartet that premiered all of the rest of the late Quartets op. 130, 131, 132 and 135.

The Quartet's first movement is unusually brief and concise. It consists, in the main, of a short introduction of heavily accented chords (Maestoso) followed by a lovely melody, marked Teneramente or tenderly. The Maestoso then Teneramente section is repeated three times, though appearing in different keys, along with a second theme for contrast. The movement is full of sudden dynamic shifts, incursions to remote keys and employment of the first violin and cello in their extreme registers.

 

The second movement, Adagio ma non troppo e molto cantabile is the heart of the work. It is more than twice as long as any of the other movements and consists of a theme with five free variations. Of this movement, Robert Schumann said, "One seems to have lingered not fifteen short minutes but an eternity." It is somewhat reminiscent of the lovely third movement of the Ninth Symphony (op 125).

 

The Scherzando vivace is one of Beethovens movements based on a tiny rhythmic cell that seems to be self-propelled through musical space-time. The last movement is marked Finale with the tempo left to the discretion of the players. It has a Haydnesque quality to it, except for the unusual coda in which Beethoven changes key, meter and tempo!

1994-95 Season, Program III, Sunday January 22, 1995

Back to the top of this page

Back to "Program Notes by Joseph Way"

Back to Richard's Home Page


Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Sonata No. 3 for Pianoforte and Violoncello in A Major Op.69 (l807-8)

 

[Young Ludwig Looking Intense]

In the 18th Century, the duo sonatas for piano and violin or cello and the trios for piano with both these instruments were vehicles for amateur musicians: Haus-Musik. These sonatas were essentially piano sonatas with accompanying string parts. Either stringed instrument could make up for some deficiency in the keyboard instrument. The violin could sustain notes in the melody line and sing far better than any piano, and the cello could supply, as it historically had, a firm bass line where the pianos sound was thin and weak. As might be expected, Beethoven did not leave the sonata for piano and cello as he found it. He wrote five such duo sonatas and from the first two, his Op. 5, to his last two, Op. l02, the two instruments were indeed treated as a partnership of equals.

 

The third sonata, Op. 69, is a middle period work. It was sketched out in 1807, finished in 1808, and published in 1809 by Breitkopth and Hartel as part of a package sold to them by Beethoven, which included the Fifth Symphony Op. 67, the Sixth Symphony Op. 68, and the two Piano Trios Op. 70. The work was dedicated to Baron Ignaz von Gleichenstein, a young noble who became a close friend of the composers and was corralled by the master into serving, for a time, as his business agent.

The work in three movements has been described as being "of dignified and often majestic character". There is much forceful writing in the opening Allegro. This is the only one of the five piano and cello sonatas which has a scherzo. It is a section of lively syncopation. The third and final movement begins with a short adagio cantabile. This serves as an introduction to the spirited Allegro, which contrasts the slower section, and makes up the major portion of the final movement.

1993-94 Season, Program I, Sunday October 3, 1993

Back to the top of this page

Back to "Program Notes by Joseph Way"

Back to Richard's Home Page


Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Quartet No. 4 in C Minor, Op. 18 No. 4 (1800)

 

[the scowl]

Despite his belief in his genius and destiny, Beethoven did not rush headlong into the composition of either string quartets or symphonies. He was acutely aware of the heights to which these forms had been taken by Mozart and Haydn. As early as 1795, he had been commissioned to write two quartets, as well as a string trio and a quintet. The Trios Op. 3 and Op. 4 were the results of the commission, the quartets never emerged. The quartets that were to comprise his first were written between 1798-1800. His hearing was already deteriorating, and he was making every effort to conceal his increasing deafness from even his intimate friends. In homage to the practice of Mozart and Haydn, and departing from his usual composition of one or three works per opus number, Op. 18 consists of six quartets. They are sometimes referred to as the "Lobokowitz" Quartets, after one of Beethoven's patrons, Prince Karl Lobokowitz. They were premiered at the Prince's Friday morning musicales, and published in 1801.

 

The ordering of the Quartets does not correspond with the order of composition. The 4th Quartet in C Minor was actually the last of the group to be written. It is the only minor key quartet of the six. This work is unique in that it seems to have been a departure from Beethoven's customary method of work. He usually filled pages of notebooks in crafting the musical shapes that he would later develop into compositions. For example, the opening motif of his 1st Quartet, a mere six notes, took up sixteen pages of notebook sketches. Subtraction, simplification and distillation of musical ideas to their essences were as important to his process as they are to a sculptor. Since no notebook sketches have ever been found for the 4th Quartet, musicologists have assumed that the work was written, as Joseph de Marliave says, "in a single stroke and at express speed, and that it has no connexion whatever with the other works of the same period." However, it is also possible that it might have been based on a previous composition. In the introduction to his classic study of Beethoven's quartets, de Marliave state: "One can trace in the Andante of Trio, Op. 4, the outline of the slow movement for the Op. 18 Quartet, No. 4..."

 

An interesting feature of the Quartet, a strength or weakness depending on your point of view, but foreshadowing late Beethoven, is the mood swings of the different movements. The emotion and drama of the first is followed, not by a slow movement, as in the other quartets, but with a witty Scherzo which seems to parody the use of canons and triple counterpoint. The Menuetto opens with the identical notes that open the Allegro, and recaptures some of the seriousness. However, when the Menuetto returns, after the trio, Beethoven instructs that it be played at a much faster tempo: piu allegro. The final movement is a vigorous Rondo featuring a theme reminiscent of Haydn's "Gypsy" music, alternating episodes, some lyric, some rhythmic. Again the pace quickens, the theme is brought back prestissimo, and the work rushes to a close in C Major.

1992-93 Season, Program II, Sunday November 1, 1992

Back to the top of this page

Back to "Program Notes by Joseph Way"

Back to Richard's Home Page


Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Sonata for Violin and Piano in G, Op. 96 (1812)

 

[more scowls]

Although he referred to some of his sonatas for violin and piano as "sonatas for pianoforte with the accompaniment of the violin", no composer during his time or before him was more responsible for making the violin and equal partner to the piano in the musical discourse. David Ewen writes: "His conception of the sonata for the violin and the piano was of a single artistic unit: the string instrument and the piano were collaborators in an artistic adventure - each contributing to the work its own gamut of colors and dynamics and sonorities. With Beethoven, even more than with Mozart, there is a wonderful interplay between string instrument and piano, forming an inextricable partnership. And in the finest of these sonatas there is a wealth of poetic meaning which gives them an interest apart from their charm as music."

 

Beethoven's writing for the violin is as idiomatic as his piano writing, despite the assertion by his student Fernando Ries that his violin playing was "dreadful music." Needless to add, Beethoven's violin and piano sonatas made increasing demands on the technical abilities of both players.

 

The Opus 96 Sonata was written for the French violinist and composer Pierre Rode (1774-1830) who at his peak was considered first among living violinists. However, it seems that this peak may have been reached some years before Beethoven wrote the Sonata for him. The Sonata was introduced by Rode and Beethoven's pupil, the Archduke Rudolphe at an evening concert at one of Beethoven's patrons, Prince Lobkowitz, on December 29, 1812. It seems that Beethoven was less satisfied with Rode's playing than he expected to be.

 

In contrast to his previous Violin and Piano Sonata No. 9 Opus 47 (The Kreutzer) with its concerto-like brilliance, the Opus 96 sonata reverts to intimacy and lyricism as a primary concern in the first movement. Indeed, this Sonata has been characterized as a "pastoral symphony" for violin and piano.

1991-92 Season, Program III, Sunday February 23, 1992

Back to the top of this page

Back to "Program Notes by Joseph Way"

Back to Richard's Home Page


Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Piano Trio in B Flat Major, Op.97, "Archduke" (1811)

The "Archduke" Trio, one of the staples of the chamber music repertory, though sketched in 1810, was substantially written between the 3rd to the 26th of March, 1811. The work was dedicated to Archduke Rudolph, the youngest son of Emperor Leopold II, and half-brother to Emperor Franz. He was both patron and pupil to Beethoven. Rudolph was said to have been a talented musician, and their relationship was one of genuine affection. Among other works dedicated to the Archduke, are the Piano Sonata No. 26, Les Adieux, and the great Missa Solemnis, which celebrated the elevation of Rudolph (unfortunately, being the youngest son of the Emperor he was obliged to enter the Clergy) as the Archbishop of Olomouc.

Despite the regal nickname, which one might take to describe the music, the Archduke Trio was actually written at a time when the power and influence of the Nobility was waning. The performance of music would move from the salons of princes, to the public concert hall. Musically talented princes would give way to professional musicians from the rising middle class. As a matter of fact this trio was given its premiere performance at a charity concert for the military, organized by Ignaz Schuppanzigh (Milord Falstaff, again) and the landlord of the Hotel "zum Romischen Kaiser", and held in the hotel’s hall, with Beethoven at the piano, Schuppanzigh on violin, and Joseph Linke, cello. Contemporary accounts by some notable musicians surrounding this performance can be found in Thayer’s Life of Beethoven . "Czerny relates that a new grand trio had then for some time been a subject of conversation among Beethoven’s friends, though no one heard it. This work, Op.97 in B Flat major, was to open the second part of the concert and the composer had consented to play it. Spohr (composer Ludwig Spohr 1784-1859) was by chance in Beethoven’s rooms at one of the rehearsals and heard him play- the only time. He writes: "It was not a treat, for in the first place, the piano was badly out of tune, which Beethoven minded little, since he could not hear it; secondly, on account of his deafness there was scarcely anything left of the virtuosity of the artist which had formerly been so greatly admired. In forte passages the poor deaf man pounded on the keys till the strings jangled, and in piano he played so softly that whole groups of tones were omitted, so that the music was unintelligible unless one could look into the pianoforte part. I was deeply saddened at so hard a fate. If it is a great misfortune for any one to be deaf, how shall a musician endure it without giving way to despair? Beethoven’s continual melancholy was no longer a riddle to me."

The concert took place at noon on Monday, April 11. Moscheles (composer/pianist Ignaz Moscheles, 1794-1870) was present and wrote in his diary: "In the case of how many compositions is the word "new" misapplied! But never in Beethoven’s, and least of all in this, which is again full of originality. His playing, aside from its intellectual element, satisfied me less, being wanting in clarity and precision; but I observed many traces of the grand style of playing which I had long recognized in his compositions."

Again, Thayer: "A few weeks later Beethoven played the Trio again at a morning concert of Schuppanzigh’s in the Prater, and thus -except as accompanist- he took leave of the public as a pianist."

Musicologist Melvin Berger, in his Guide to Chamber Music, aptly characterizes the work "In the "Archduke" ... Beethoven found an approach that substituted a new gemütlichkeit, a warm emotional style with broadly sung moderately paced melodies and appealing dance rhythms, for the grandiose gestures of the past."

The expansive first movement opens with a subject reminiscent of the first subject of the "Rasumovsky" String Quartet, Op. 59,No.1. Of the second movement scherzo, I quote musicologist David Ewen, himself quoting musicologist Robert Haven Schauffler: "It is one of the Master’s foremost contributions to this form of his invention - the form in which the lion of wit was first successfully made to lie down with the lamb of melody." The third movement Andante cantabile is in the form of a hymnlike theme subjected to variations of increasing and elaborate rhythmic ornamentation, yet maintaining the serene character of the movement. It is connected, without pause to the fourth movement. Of this Allegro moderato, David Ewen writes. "The rondo finale has always been something of a disappointment to the admirers of the Archduke, who regard it as falling below the level attained in the first three movements". I prefer Melvin Berger’s viewpoint. "The last movement, following the lofty Andante cantabile without pause, provides the same rude shock that observers frequently reported after hearing Beethoven improvise at the keyboard. Apparently it was Beethoven’s habit, after catching everyone up in the magic of his music, to slam his fist down on the keys and burst into raucous laughter, as though embarrassed by the spiritual experience they had just shared. Likewise, the energetic, dance-like last movement impudently intrudes on the serene, otherworldly atmosphere Beethoven had created in the previous movement. Once having broken the spell, the movement fairly bubbles along with great wit and humor, to reach a brilliant conclusion."

1997-98 Season, Program I, Sunday October 5, 1997

Back to the top of this page

Back to "Program Notes by Joseph Way"

Back to Richard's Home Page


"If one may say that Haydn created the string quartet as an art form, Beethoven achieved even greater attainment than his predecessor in the quartets of Op.59, revealing the expressive capacity latent in the genre to an extent never dreamed of by earlier musicians. It is for this reason primarily that these three quartets have so deep a significance."

Joseph De Marliave, Beethoven’s Quartets 1925, 1961

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770- 1827)

String Quartet in F major, Op.59, No. 1 "Russian" (1806)

For these notes we turn to Thayer’s Life of Beethoven, to the chapter entitled "The Year 1806".

"Perhaps no work of Beethoven’s met a more discouraging reception from musicians than these now famous Quartets. One friendly contemporary voice alone is heard- that if the All. Mus. Zeit (Feb 27, 1807): ‘Three new, very long (no coughing now!) and difficult Beethoven string quartets, dedicated to the Russian Ambassador, Count Razumovsky, are also attracting attention of all connoisseurs. The conception is profound and the construction excellent, but they are not easily comprehended- with the possible exception of the 3rd in C major which cannot but appeal to intelligent lovers of music because of its originality, melody and harmonic power.’ An article on May 5th concerning the question of publication speaks in the same tone.’In Vienna Beethoven’s most recent, difficult but fine quartets have become more and more popular. Music-lovers hope to see them printed soon.’

Czerny told Jahn that ‘ when Schuppanzigh (Ignaz ‘Milord Falstaff" Schuppanzigh, first violinist of the famed Schuppanzigh Quartet and butt of endless fat jokes by Beethoven) first played the Razumovsky Quartet in F, they laughed and were convinced that Beethoven was playing a joke and that it was not the quartet which had been promised.’ And according to Dolezalek, when Gyrowitz bought these quartets he said: ‘Pity to waste the money!’ The Allegretto of the first of these quartets was long a rock of offence. ‘When at the beginning of the year 1812,’ says Lenz, ‘the movement was to be played for the first time in the musical circle of Field Marshal Count Soltikoff in Moscow, Bernard Romberg trampled underfoot as a contemptible mystification the bass part which he was to play. The Quartet was laid aside. When, a few years later, it was played at the house of Privy Councillor Lwoff, father of the famous violinist, in St. Petersburg, the company broke out in laughter when the bass played his solo on one note.-The quartet was again laid aside.

Thomas Appleby, was a leader of the musical world of Manchester, England, and a principle director of concerts there. When these quartets came out in London, Clementi sent a copy of them to him. They were opened and thrown upon the pianoforte. Next day Felix Radicati and his wife, Mme. Bertinotti, called and presented letters, they being upon a concert tour. During the conversation the Italian went to the pianoforte, took up the quartets and seeing what they were, exclaimed (in substance): ‘Have you got these here! Ha! Beethoven, as the world says, and as I believe, is music-mad;- for these are not music. He submitted them to me in manuscript and, at his request, I fingered them for him. I said to him, that he surely did not consider these works to be music? - to which he replied, ‘Oh, they are not for you, but for a later age’." Beethoven had the last word in the matter.

It is not difficult to understand that his contemporaries would find the second movement scherzo quite eccentric, starting as it does with that little one-note melody given to the cello. Beethoven would later use a similar one-note melody to great effect in the slow movement of the Seventh Symphony. Perhaps it was the length and breadth of the ideas contained in the first movement that caused it to be perceived as the ramblings of a madman, though genial and tuneful ramblings nonetheless. The sad, soulful third movement Adagio presents a puzzlement of another kind. In the sketches for this movement, Beethoven had written the words ‘Eine Trauer-weide oder Akazien-Baum aufs Grab meines Bruder’ (A weeping willow or an acacia on the grave of my brother). The speculation as to this cryptic statement runs as follows: Beethoven was evoking the memory of a brother born a year before him who lived only a week. Or, Beethoven was lamenting as death the marriage of his brother Casper to one Johanna Reiss- a woman whom Beethoven detested, and who, after his brother’s death, he would later engage in ugly custody battles over his nephew Karl. On the other hand, De Marliave points out that the pages also contain what might be reminders to pick up his clothes at the tailor’s. He also comments that this movement is remarkable for the simplicity and breadth of its construction, and asserts that it contains music "of such passionate emotion as neither this nor any other quartet has ever before displayed…Tristan itself never scaled greater emotional heights!"

It is with the last movement that the quartet earns the sobriquet "Russian". In this movement Beethoven quotes an actual Theme Russe though modified somewhat, said to be found in a collection of Russian folk music published by Ivan Pratsch. This same theme was later used by Mussorgsky for the chorus in the Coronation Scene of his opera Boris Godunov. De Marliave states that the theme was supplied to Beethoven by Count Rasumovsky. Other sources dispute this, saying that the idea for the Theme Russe was Beethoven’s to honor his patron. If the idea of incorporating a Russian Theme into each of the quartets was Beethoven’s, he later abandoned the idea, since the third Rasumovsky Quartet does not contain a "Theme Russe".

As for the Count, Andreas Kyrillovich Rasumovsky was a man of great wealth and generosity who served as the Russian Ambassador to Vienna. He also headed the Russian delegation to the Congress of Vienna. For this service, he was made a Prince by the Czar in 1815. He was known equally as a ladies man, not to say womanizer, as well as a patron of the arts. He was an early supporter of Beethoven, and in 1808 created a String Quartet to be put at Beethoven’s disposal for the performance of his new works. This was the famed Schuppanzigh Quartet. The position of second violin was left open, and the Count himself often played in the quartet. Beethoven enjoyed this enviable position until 1816. During a gigantic New Years Eve party, celebrating his elevation from count to prince, his palace caught fire, destroying his magnificent art collection and library. This mishap devastated him both emotionally and financially, causing him to disband the quartet and pension off the musicians.

 1998-1999 Season, Program IV, Sunday April 11, 1999

Back to the top of this page

Back to "Program Notes by Joseph Way"

Back to Richard's Home Page


Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827)

Violin Sonata No. 9 in A major Op. 47 Kreutzer (1803)

"Music expresses nothing" Igor Stravinsky

Perhaps the provocative statement above by another great Russian artist, might serve here as a counterpoint to the overwrought emotions of Tolstoy. In his book Ewen’s Musical Masterworks, David Ewen puts it thus: "A great deal of romantic nonsense has been written about the dramatic and tempestuous Kreuzer Sonata in A Major, Op. 47, largely because of its association with the Tolstoy novel that borrowed its title. Indeed, Anton Rubenstein accused Tolstoy point-blank of having misunderstood completely the virile character of Beethoven’s sonata in making it serve as inspiration (and title) for a romantic novel about a jealous husband who murders his wife. The sonata takes its name from its dedication to the famous violinist Rodolph Kreutzer, who (it is now amusing to recall) refused to perform it because it was too "outrageously unintelligible".

As I understand it, this story was, for Tolstoy, a vehicle for his emerging moral philosophy, which resulted from his "conversion" to his own brand of idiosyncratic Christianity. A moral philosophy that makes the radio yenta Dr. Laura seem like a libertine. (May God protect us from those who have found him!) Anyway, back to Beethoven… what he did have in mind was a work of large scale proportion. He referred to it as "Per il pianoforte ed un violino obbligatto, scritta in uno stilo molto concertante quasi come d’un concerto." In other words, a concerto for violin and piano alone. This was a novel conception in contrast to the small-scale violin and piano sonatas of the 18th century. The first and second movements were actually written after the third movement Finale, which originally served as the last movement of his Violin Sonata in A Op.30.

The work itself was not even originally dedicated to Kreutzer. The original manuscript bears the dedication "Sonata mulattica composta per il Mulatto Brischdauer /gran Pazzo e’compositore mullatico (Mulatto Sonata composed for the Mulatto Bridgetower, a great fool and mulatto composer), a typical example of Beethoven’s sense of humor. George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower (1779- 1860) was the son of an African father and a Polish or German mother. He made his debut on violin at age 10, and remained in the service of the Prince of Wales, later George IV, as a musician. When he was 24 years of age he was given leave to visit his mother in Dresden. His playing there gained him favorable letters, which gained him entrance to the highest musical circles in Vienna – hence, his introduction to Beethoven through Prince Lichnowsky. It was Bridgetower who gave the premier performance of the Sonata on May 24, 1803 in the Augartensaal. Beethoven’s friend Ferdinand Ries wrote; " One morning Beethoven summoned me at half after 4 o’clock and said: ’Copy the violin part of the first Allegro quickly.’ (His ordinary copyist was otherwise engaged.) The pianoforte part was noted down only here and there in parts. Bridgetower had to play the marvelously beautiful theme and variations in F from Beethoven’s manuscript at the concert because there was no time to copy it. The final Allegro, however was beautifully written, since it originally belonged to the Sonata in A Major (Op.30), which is dedicated to Czar Alexander."

On his copy of the Sonata, Bridgetower wrote the following regarding this first performance; "When I accompanied him in this Sonata-Concertante at Wien, at the repetition of the first part of the Presto, I imitated the flight, at the 18th bar, of the pianoforte… He jumped up, embraced me saying: "Noch einmal, mein lieber Bursch!" ("Once again, my dear boy!") Then he held the open pedal during this flight, the chord of C as at the ninth bar. Beethoven’s expression in the Andante was so chaste, which always characterized the performance of all his slow movements , that it was unanimously hailed to be repeated twice." It seems that concerts were much looser affairs in those days.

As to why this great work became known as the "Kreutzer" instead of the "Bridgetower" Sonata, we return again to Thayer’s Life Of Beethoven, where the previous quotes can be found. "Bridgetower, when advanced in years, talking with Mr. Thirwall about Beethoven, told him that at the time of the Sonata, Op.47, was composed, he and the composer were constant companions, and that the first copy bore a dedication to him; but before he departed from Vienna they had a quarrel about a girl, and Beethoven then dedicated the work to Rudolph Kreutzer."

1998-1999 Season, Program II, Sunday December 13, 1998

Back to the top of this page

Back to "Program Notes by Joseph Way"

Back to Richard's Home Page


"If one may say that Haydn created the string quartet as an art form, Beethoven achieved even greater attainment than his predecessor in the quartets of Op.59, revealing the expressive capacity latent in the genre to an extent never dreamed of by earlier musicians. It is for this reason primarily that these three quartets have so deep a significance."

Joseph De Marliave

Beethoven’s Quartets (1925, 1961)

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770- 1827)

String Quartet No. 8 in E minor, Op.59, No 2 (1806)

For these notes we turn to Thayer’s Life of Beethoven, to the chapter entitled "The Year 1806".

"Perhaps no work of Beethoven’s met a more discouraging reception from musicians than these now famous Quartets.One friendly contemporary voice alone is heard- that of the All. Mus. Zeit (Feb 27, 1807): ‘Three new, very long and difficult Beethoven string quartets, dedicated to the Russian Ambassador, Count Razumovsky, are also attracting attention of all connoisseurs. The conception is profound and the construction excellent, but they are not easily comprehended- with the possible exception of the 3rd in C major which cannot but appeal to intelligent lovers of music because of its originality, melody and harmonic power.’ An article on May 5th concerning the question of publication speaks in the same tone.’In Vienna Beethoven’s most recent, difficult but fine quartets have become more and more popular. Music-lovers hope to see them printed soon.’

Czerny told Jahn that ‘when Schuppanzigh (Ignaz ‘Milord Flagstaff" Schuppanzigh, first violinist of the famed Schuppanzigh Quartet and butt of endless fat jokes by Beethoven) first played the Razumovsky Quartet in F, they laughed and were convinced that Beethoven was playing a joke and that it was not the quartet which had been promised.’ And according to Dolezalek, when Gyrowitz bought these quartets he said: ‘Pity to waste the money!’ The Allegretto of the first of these quartets was long a rock of offence. ‘When at the beginning of the year 1812,’ says Lenz, ‘the movement was to be played for the first time in the musical circle of Field Marshal Count Soltikoff in Moscow, Bernard Romberg trampled underfoot as a contemptible mystification the bass part which he was to play. The Quartet was laid aside. When, a few years later, it was played at the house of Privy Councillor Lwoff, father of the famous violinist, in St. Petersburg, the company broke out in laughter when the bass played his solo on one note. The quartet was again laid aside.

Thomas Appleby, was a leader of the musical world of Manchester, England, and a principle director of concerts there. When these quartets came out in London, Clementi sent a copy of them to him. They were opened and thrown upon the pianoforte. Next day Felix Radicati and his wife, Mme. Bertinotti, called and presented letters, they being on a concert tour. During the conversation the Italian went to the pianoforte, took up the quartets and seeing what they were, exclaimed (in substance): ‘Have you got these here! Ha! Beethoven, as the world says, and as I believe, is music-mad;- for these are not music. He submitted them to me in manuscript and, at his request, I fingered them for him. I said to him, that he surely did not consider these works to be music? - to which he replied, ‘Oh, they are not for you, but for a later age’."

Beethoven had the last word in the matter.

Although Beethoven himself did not live to see the extent to which tide of criticism would turn in favor of these quartets, in the 1820’s the Op. 59 Quartets were gaining some important admirers, among the Rossini, then a European superstar. However, it might be noted that this same decade, the last of the composer’s life, also saw the creation of the late quartets, which were as far beyond the Op. 59 set, as the Op. 59 set was from his early Op. 18 set. These three quartets have often been described as the most "symphonic" of all his quartets. In his study of Beethoven, written in 1852 and published in Paris, von Lenz writes, "The three quartets dedicated to Count Rasoumowsky are the natural fulfillment of the promise of the symphonies and the piano sonatas, but a greater achievement, since the form of the quartet is less adapted to innovation of style than either the sonata or the symphony… the content of these quartets is as great as the content of the symphonies, only the medium is different." Still, opinions regarding these works were by no means unanimous. In response to von Lenz’s work, another book appeared by one Ulibishev and published Paris in 1857, which voiced the following opinion "Few people liked them at the time of their first appearance in St. Petersburg. But since then opinion has changed, and contemporary critics place them far above the first six quartets that Beethoven wrote. Some have gone so far as to call them miracles. (It was von Lenz who said this.) If I cared at all for public opinion, I should have not the hardihood to confess that for my part the quartets have never much interested me. It has been in vain that I have played them for years, and heard them played by performers of the front rank; I have tried to make myself like what has at last found general acceptance, but I cannot find them interesting. I feel sure that many others share my opinion, but dare not express it, since in no community is individual opinion so much dominated by prejudice and self-deception, cliques and catchwords, as the world of music… Today the Op.59 are called the ‘great’ Beethoven quartets, soon the Op. 127, 130, 131, 132, and 135 works will be called the ‘very great’ quartets, and these titles will undoubtedly be quite exact, since the score of the longest Op. 18 quartet is thirty pages in length, the longest in Op. 59 is thirty-eight, and the longest of the last, sixty-two. Certainly one cannot quarrel with their arithmetic."

Despite the drama of the first movement of the Quartet in E minor, it is the second movement molto adagio, or adagio molto which has become the highlight and most-commented-upon movement of this quartet. I quote from de Marliave. The impassioned Allegro is followed by a slow movement breathing an inspired idealism, profoundly spiritual yet deeply human: ‘a vision of Paradise where mortal love finds eternal happiness’. (Quote within the quote again from von Lenz) It is an unbroken stream of melody, with various phrases bound together by connecting chords, not split up and set against one another in the working out of the counterpoint – an unending melodic line often found in the later Beethoven quartets, and developed to perfection by R. Wagner.

Holtz the violinist, an intimate friend of Beethoven’s, and a member of the famous Schuppanzigh Quartet (also subject to merciless teasing and scurrilous bad jokes from Ludwig van) tells how the composer conceived the idea of this movement one night, at Baden, near Vienna, as he gazed up at the stars, contemplating the harmony of the spheres." Czerny (he of the finger exercises) concurs " The Adagio, E Major, in the second Razumovsky Quartet, occurred to him when contemplating the starry sky and thinking of the music of the spheres". Beethoven admonishes the players with the following written instruction; " Si tratta questo pezzo con molto de sentimento" (This piece must be played with much feeling). In his Guide to Chamber Music, Melvin Berger points out something about this movement that I did not find mentioned in other sources. He notes that " …the main theme’s first four notes are derived from a transposition of the musical spelling of Bach’s name. (In German, B, A, C, H, are the notes B flat, A, C, B.) At one point in the development section, the cello actually plays these exact notes." The third movement is marked allegretto rather than scherzo and is noteworthy for its use of syncopation. In the fourth movement, Beethoven introduces a Russian folksong onto the mix. Supposedly each of the Razumovsky quartets was to contain a Russian theme. Beethoven did do so in the first, and this quartet. He seems to have discarded the idea for the third quartet, which contains no such theme. The Russian theme used in the E minor quartet is a patriotic hymn entitled "Slava". It was a later used by Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov in the Tsar’s Bride, and Mussorgsky in Boris Godunov. Interestingly enough, Beethoven treats the theme in a way similar to the way Haydn used his hymn in the Emperor quartet. The theme, each time it appears, is presented without variation or elaboration. Who knows, perhaps the composers, especially Beethoven who could vary a theme like nobody’s business, felt that too much inventiveness with the theme, might cause the listeners not to recognize it.

The Razumovsky Quartets were premiered by the Schuppanzigh Quartet in Feb. 1807. As for the Count, Andreas Kyrillovich Rasumovsky was a man of great wealth and generosity who served as the Russian Ambassador to Vienna.He also headed the Russian delegation to the Congress of Vienna.For this service, he was made a Prince by the Czar in 1815. He was known equally as a ladies man, not to say womanizer, as well as a patron of the arts. He was an early supporter of Beethoven, and in 1808 created a String Quartet to be put at Beethoven’s disposal for the performance of his new works. This was the famed Schuppanzigh Quartet. The position of second violin was left open, and the Count himself often played in the quartet. Beethoven enjoyed this enviable position until 1816. During a gigantic New Years Eve party, celebrating his elevation from count to prince, Razumovsky's palace caught fire, destroying his magnificent art collection and library. This mishap devastated him both emotionally and financially, causing him to disband the quartet and pension off the musicians.

In the end, and for various reasons, Beethoven wound up being "stiffed" by his aristocratic patrons; never collecting all of the money he was promised.

2000-2001 Season, Program I, Sunday October 29, 2000


"We artists don’t want tears, we want applause."

Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827)

Sonata No.5 in F Major for Violin and Piano, Op.24 "Spring" (1801)

Of the ten sonatas for violin and piano composed by Beethoven, No.9 "Kreutzer" and No.5 "Spring" remain the perennial favorites. While No. 9 is dramatic, passionate and grand, No. 5 is just plain SWEET. From start to finish, it is Ludwig van at his most charming. As the prolific (not to mention modest) writer David Ewen published in his book Ewen’s Musical Masterworks – the Encyclopedia of Musical Masterpieces: "Spring Sonata in F major, Op.24 is a work requiring little comment…" (He should have left it at that.) So, don’t waste the time reading these notes . Just sit back and enjoy fully this lovely work - with the added enjoyment of knowing that despite the fact that the power may go out (yet if it did, the music could continue), you are in a place where in February the world’s already abloom.

However, for those who insist: take notice how in the first movement Allegro, at the very beginning of the opening theme Beethoven uses what might be perceived as merely an ornamental figure as a building block of the movement. Incidentally, this figure also makes an appearance in the beautiful slow movement. The third movement scherzo is striking in its brevity, barely over a minute long. Those familiar with Robert Schumann’s Album for the Young Op.68, will notice that in the second piece of the collection, The Soldier’s March (Soldatenmarsch) Schumann has appropriated the tune, without the humorous offbeat rhythm. The finale is a tuneful Rondo. For what it’s worth, the work was dedicated to Count Moritz von Fries, and the appellation "Spring" was not the composer’s.

2000-2001 Season, Program III, Sunday February 11, 2001

Back to the top of this page

Back to "Program Notes by Joseph Way"

Back to Richard's Home Page


All original text on this page Copyright 2000 by Joseph Way