Beethoven (1770 – 1827) wrote 10 sonatas for Piano and violin in between the years of 1798 and 1812, completing the bulk of which by 1803. This set of works continued the change in trend from the “accompanied sonatas” of the pre classical, and championed both instruments as equal partners in presentation. As influential a composer as Beethoven was, we cannot forget that he lived in Mozart’s shadow for years. The earliest sonatas drew upon Mozart’s mature Piano and Violin sonatas, while at the same time carved out a new and unique musical style. A man of whom Mozart had said “someday … will give the world something to talk about,” Beethoven furthered Mozart’s efforts to create chamber music through this genre.
It was obvious Mozart was not commenting on Beethoven’s skills as a violinist when he gave the afore-mentioned remark. Different accounts concur that while Beethoven did play the violin and viola in some chamber music settings, he was never quite the soloist that he became as a pianist. However, over his lifetime Beethoven was acquainted with the leading violinists of Europe who kept him up to date with the changes in the construction of the instrument. (Numerous articles have been written about the improvements in the violin with respect to size, shape, bow, the angle of the fingerboard, and string material, and how all these can be traced through violin sonatas of the time.) The late 18th century was a period of revolution, and instrument making enjoyed such a boon as well.
The Op. 30 sonatas (numbers 6, 7, and 8 in the oeuvre), was written between 1801 and 1802, and dedicated to the Tsar Alexander I of Russia. Beethoven reflected the multi-faceted revolution he was facing in his life well in his writing. The first, political, revolution was perhaps too obvious – Beethoven’s dedication showed his deference to the ruler whom he referred to as “an enlightened despot”, admiring his efforts at legal reform. A more violent revolution also unfolded in Europe in 1802. Whether by chance or by intention, Beethoven sketched out a turbulent second sonata of the Op. 30 set the day before the Napoleonic wars erupted. A personal revolution was seen in the Heiligenstadt Testament – Beethoven’s suicide-lament-turned-motivational letter that he wrote in 1802, convincing himself that he had to continue living despite his deafness as the world has not heard all of his music yet!
The set represented the change in styles of Beethoven’s compositional output, a time of great innovation while battling with the formal demands of the classical tradition. Historians would later place the Op. 30 sonatas in the middle period of Beethoven’s output. The next article will discuss more about the individual sonatas and their styles.
The first concerts of the Beethoven cycle will take place in Cleveland on November 8-10. For more information, please visit http://nina-sandberg.weebly.com/beethoven
There are several musicians who blog frequently about their performances, repertoire, pet peeves, and anything under the sun when it comes to music. I recently read a response to blogs on an Australian website about music (albeit an old article) -
The author discusses if musicians should be writing, and really, there is no good answer to this. Throughout history, though, numerous musicians (composers and performers alike) have been great authors. Robert Schumann is a particularly famous example, and his efforts have unearthed many other composers that we might never know today. In Schumann, his purpose in writing is an informative and slightly elitist one. He kept his fans and the public up to date with compositions and musicians in the area and abroad, and comments on "good" music.
In the 21st century, what is the purpose of writing about music?
In my musicology courses, we write about music the same way Schumann did. We comment. We pick out the composers and pieces we like. We seek out otherwise unknown musicians. And when we write about "old" music, we offer a new angle of looking at music. We discuss. We invoke emotions.
As a musician, I read to be informed. I read to keep up with current affairs in my field. And then, as an educator, I inform my students. And as I write, I want to continue to inform. As I work out a frequent blogging schedule, keep a look out on a series of blog posts about Beethoven. (I know, not my usual topic.) I am embarking on a Beethoven project that will take perhaps a few years to complete. There is plenty to learn about and from Beethoven, and what better way to keep myself informed and to keep all my information organized?