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