Throughout the 2014-15 season cellist Pablo Mahave-Veglia will be involved in the performance of the Complete Beethoven Sonatas and Variations for cello and pianoforte utilizing period instruments and historical performance practices.  Each of the three concerts will be performed at Grand Valley State University, and repeated in regional concert series, and feature a different keyboard artist. As Beethoven would write accounting for the rapid development of the piano at the time, each of the concerts will also feature a fortepiano that mirrors this development from Beethoven’s early, middle to late compositional style.


Sonatas Nos. 1 and 2 op. 5 and Variations op. 66 - with fortepianist Carol lei Breckenridge

October 9, 2014 at 8pm - Eastern Michigan University

Sonatas Nos. 1 and 2 op. 5 and Variations op. 66 - with fortepianist Carol lei Breckenridge

November 3, 2014 at 7:30pm - Grand Valley State University

Sonatas No. 3 and Variations WoO 46 - with fortepianist Seth Carlin

January 4, 2015 at 7:30pm - Early Music at Colby Barn, Grayslake, IL

Sonatas No. 3 and Variations WoO 46 - with fortepianist Seth Carlin

January 5, 2015 at 7:30pm - Grand Valley State University

Sonatas Nos. 4 and 5 and Variations WoO 45 - with fortepianist Shin Hwang

March 23, 2015 at 7:30pm - Grand Valley State University

Sonatas Nos. 4 and 5 and Variations WoO 45 - with fortepianist Shin Hwang

March 24, 2015 at 12:15 pm - Feeding the Soul of the City Series, Muskegon, MI

Sonatas Nos. 4 and 5 and Variations WoO 45 - with fortepianist Shin Hwang

April 10, 2015 at 8pm - Academy of Early Music, Ann Arbor, MI

Sonatas Nos. 4 and 5 and Variations WoO 45 - with fortepianist Shin Hwang

April 11, 2015 at 8pm - Academy of Early Music, Bloomfield Hills, MI

Sonatas No. 3 and Variations WoO 46 - with fortepianist Seth Carlin

May 4, 2015 at 8pm - Washington University, St. Louis, MO

Program Notes

The division of Beethoven's works under the classification of “Early,” “Middle,” and “Late” is surely something most of us deem partial or imperfect. The tradition endures, as it has proven efficient to parcel his life and works into chapters that have clear stylistic delineations as well as biographical landmarks. Beyond the shifting aesthetic normal to the development of a composer, Beethoven's lifetime was a time that experienced a great transition in the way music was sponsored and financed. Although in his youth he longed for the stability and reputation that a church Kapellmeister position might entail (his Belgian grandfather and namesake had been one and the young Ludwig idolized him far over his own father), for much of his adult career he was in fact a freelance composer, where he served as a sort of self manager and negotiated (with different degrees of success and not without acrimony) the terms of commissions for individual works. It would be naïve to think that these financial circumstances did not have an effect on the stylistic changes of Beethoven's three chronological periods. If certain genres best fit the sensitivities of a particular style (the public and heroic character of the symphony in the middle period or the learned and introspective nature of chamber music for his late years), there are a few instrumental combinations for which Beethoven wrote all throughout his life. Such is the case with his five Sonatas for Cello and Pianoforte, which span the Early (the classical op. 5 No. 1 and No. 2), Middle (the grand op. 69) and the Late (the smaller and more gothic op. 102 No. 1 and No. 2).

Beethoven's first op. numbers appeared in Vienna in the early 1790's. If this is the start of the “Early” Beethoven, it surely begs the question of what the by then 20-year-old had been writing in his native Bonn. The answer is quite a lot and includes works on genres that he would cultivate for many years and even some fragments that would be later reworked into mature masterpieces. Chief among his favorite topics is that of the theme and variation, which became an idée fixe for the composer. There are many sets for different combinations of instruments from this period, most of which were published much later and are found within the WoO catalog (in German “works without opus number,” a classification given in the mid-20th Century). Written very early upon his move to Vienna, the sets of variations WoO 45, 46 and the op. 66 are simple melodic variations (i.e.: the harmonic and phrase structure remains ostensibly intact) on opera arias that were well known by concert goers at the time (the op. 66 number does not mean a later work, as some of the early compositions were published much later).

Beethoven had a stormy family life and a difficult childhood in Bonn. His underachieving, alcoholic father left him with much responsibility over his younger brothers, and these relationships proved troubled for the rest of his life. It was surely this antagonism towards his father that made him connect to the legend that he was of noble birth and perhaps the offspring of none other than Frederick the Great (he relented on the idea on one of his very last letters). His move to Vienna came in 1792, after meeting Haydn in Bonn and being accepted as his student. The relationship with his teacher was equally fraught with conflict and alternated wildly between admiration and disdain. Beethoven would refuse to advertise himself as a Haydn student (a common badge of honor among his pupils) but at the same time went as far as secretly hiring another tutor, not to supplant “Papa” Haydn, but rather get help on homework and better impress the master! In fact this “school work” slowed down his output so much that he was compelled to take some of his earlier works written in Bonn and pass them for new pieces he had written under Haydn's tutelage. Haydn was quite impressed until he learned, from none other than Bonn Elector Maximilian Franz (the Emperor's brother), of the scheme. Haydn left for London and soon after Beethoven was studying with Salieri. By his own admission, Beethoven needed to work on aspects of counterpoint and polyphony to evolve over the mostly melodic and ornamental music he had written in Bonn. This he did, and by 1800 he was writing Piano Sonatas and even already a couple of Symphonies that featured lengthy and sophisticated development sections that displayed a mastery of the Viennese classical style.

After the death of Frederick the Great in 1786, his nephew Friedrich Wilhelm II became the new King of Prussia and, like his predecessor, made the Court in Potsdam a center of musical composition, this time with great emphasis on the cello. The King himself was a dedicated amateur that had brought the French cello virtuoso Jean Louis Duport to be his personal instructor. Other composers that were commissioned to write for the King included cellists such as Boccherini (who never traveled to Potsdam, but sent his works from Spain), Romberg (a close friend of Beethoven's) and Duport's brother Jean Pierre. Beethoven traveled to Potsdam in 1796 where he performed both of the op. 5 Sonatas with Duport and presented them with his dedication to the King. The works are almost without precedent in that the cello sonata until then was almost exclusively a continuo sonata, that is a texture in which the melodic material of the cello would be complemented by a bass line and harmonies partially improvised by a keyboard instrument. The set up here is completely different, with both instruments sharing the melodic spotlight and with a fully integrated and written out keyboard part. Moreover, the original title of Sonatas for pianoforte and cello may be more faithful to the nature of the works in which, particularly in the highly idiomatic and technical sections of transitions and developments, the piano takes the virtuoso lead with the cello keeping a decidedly secondary role. Both Sonatas keep an early classical model of two movements, where the first Sonata form is preceded by a slow, rhetorical and recitative-like introduction and the second movement is a standard Rondo form full of the humor that would be lacking in so much of his later music. What is conspicuously not Haydnesque is the more dramatic and even striking juxtaposition of dynamics, surely an influence of the French works he so admired by Gluck and Cherubini (these sudden changes would become a Beethovenian trademark in later years). Also, in the first movements, the longer and more elaborate developmental sections here coexists with the more conservative classical binary form, where each section (exposition and development-recapitulation) is repeated. Why and how Beethoven's musical style changed so quickly and radically after 1800 was not because of lack of acceptance or success. Indeed, by 1800 Beethoven was seen as a worthy successor to the Viennese tradition of Mozart and Haydn, his works were being published in Germany and abroad, and commissions came in faster than he could fulfill them. His first “academy” (a self-presented concert for financial benefit of the composer) in 1800 had introduced his Symphony No. 1 to much success and his continued work as a pianist put him at the forefront of the virtuosos of the day. A personal crisis in the way of his ever-increasing deafness as well as the political upheaval of the Napoleonic Wars would confabulate for this aesthetic shift to take place. The history of music would change because of it.

In the year 1800 Prince Lichnowsky began giving Beethoven an annuity that, presumably, would enable him to work beyond the commission model and explore projects of personal interest. All of this professional success came in stark contrast to the personal crisis that came about in 1802. By nature a personality of brusque manners and short temper, by his early thirties he had only a small social circle and an even smaller circle of female interests. This lack of social grace was without doubt compounded by his increasing deafness, a condition he first kept more or less secret and became the focus of great personal anxiety. His pattern of attaching himself to a family (as he did with Prince Lichnowsky or Countess Erdödy), as a sort of extended relative would time and again find the same dysfunctional fate as his own. When it came to romantic relationships with women, the pattern was one of seeking unavailable women of noble birth that reject him without fail. As a way of escaping social contact and overcoming this impasse, Beethoven took an extended stay in the locality of Heiligenstadt. What should have been a vacation, instead turned into a solitary and anxiety-ridden episode that climaxed in the writing of a letter to his brothers, thereinafter referred to as the Heiligenstadt Testament. Part last will, self-help, part confession and suicide note, he declares that only devotion to his Art kept him from killing himself. The letter, undelivered, was found among his papers after his death. Beethoven emerged form this experience with renewed energies and with a clear sense of mission regarding his work as a composer. Perhaps conscious of his debt to music for his salvation, the ensuing years prove to be among the most productive of his career.

Meanwhile, the French ideas of enlightenment were conquering European territories, quite literally in the form of Napoleon's victories. The revolutionary ideas of brotherhood over aristocracy and reason and merit over the privilege of birth appealed greatly to the Viennese intellectual community, if not to the aristocratic class that often financed them. Beethoven considered quite seriously moving to Paris and if he didn't he certainly absorbed much of the grand, heroic and public nature of the French style. In contrast to the ideals of balance in form and demure character of high Viennese classicism, this new period is less adorned, less sensual and more dramatic in form and content. Beethoven begins to favor the Symphony, now expanded to a massive length and with more turbulent drama than elegant detail. This heroic style is inaugurated with the Symphony No. 3 op. 55, a work he first considered dedicating to Napoleon, then simply titling it Eroica (the explanation for the change ranges from Beethoven's disappointment at Napoleons self-coronation as Emperor – almost surely an apocryphal anecdote related by Ferdinand Ries, to the more realistic and self-preserving consideration of how the Viennese censors would look upon Francophile expressions). It is interesting to note that the Beethoven works that we hear most often in concerts nowadays are the same that were most popular during his lifetime, as middle period masterworks such as the Symphonies Nos. 5, 6, 7 and 9 (although a late work, the last Symphony was an anachronism and is best understood as a “heroic” work), the Piano Concertos Nos. 4 and 5, and the Piano Sonatas “Waldstein” and “Appassionata,” were performed even internationally much more than his early or later works.

1809 was a very difficult year for Beethoven and for Vienna. Although short lived, the French occupation of the city provoked the aristocracy to flee, taking with it much of the musical life, or at least the means to produce it. That same year, in a fairly pathetic letter, Beethoven asked his friend and Patron the Baron Ignaz Gleichenstein (himself also a competent cellist) to help him “find a wife.” Letters indicate that the request didn't seem entirely unusual to Gleichenstein, and they busied themselves in courting the sisters Anna and Therese Malfatti. The Baron got the best part of the deal, ending with his engagement to Anna and the dedication of the magnificent Sonata No. 3, op. 69 in A Major from Beethoven. The composer, in turn was rejected by Therese, which soured his relationship with Gleichenstein; “your friendship only causes me fresh irritation and pain,” he wrote to him 1810. Whatever the genesis of the work, the op. 69 Sonata is a masterpiece of the middle period, in a sense, the chamber music application of the stylistic changes he had pioneered in the Symphonies of the same period. The large three-movement form lacks only a slow movement (if one discounts the short introduction to the final Allegro) to be of truly symphonic proportions. Moreover, it opens and closes with large Sonata forms that first bring the virtuosism of the cello to par with the piano (boldly, the piece opens with the cello enunciating the first phase unaccompanied). Particularly in the first movement the development section is striking in that it engages both instruments in trading the kind of fast passage-work that earlier Beethoven would have found only idiomatic for a keyboard instrument. Furthermore, this development section is expanded by the inclusion of a melodic theme that is new and not derived from the main themes of the exposition (Beethoven had first utilized this method in the first movement of the Eroica Symphony). This new theme is conspicuously similar to the opening of the Aria Es ist vollbracht (“It is accomplished”) from Bach's St. John Passion. If this might be a great coincidence, I choose to think that Beethoven was aware that these few notes are related to a particular instrument (it features a viola da gamba solo – the French baroque counterpart to the cello) and the lamenting text that follows the finals words of Christ in the cross. The descending stepwise motion of the melody, in turn, mirrors beautifully the tearful and pleading singing text. Curiously, the top of the manuscript bears the inscription inter lacrymas et luctus  (“among tears and sorrows”), which, while not so descriptive of the work itself, might have been telling of the circumstances of the composition. In between these Sonata forms lies a Scherzo that rhythmically is with precedents in the ones from the op. 24 No. 5 Violin Sonata and the op. 18 No. 4 String Quartet. This movement takes the traditional triple division of the beat and instead of the conventional emphasis on the downbeat, it does so on the “wrong” upbeat. Only it does this for the entire movement, rendering it beyond the playful or quirky, and more like stubborn or even clinically obsessive. The first performance took place in private at the home of the Countess Erdödy and was one of the final times, his deafness quite pronounced, that Beethoven performed as a pianist in public.

Perhaps inevitably, Beethoven's middle period abused of this appeal to nationalism and even militarism, and eventually produced forgettable works of bombastic style that had outlived their and place. Wellington's Victory, the Ruins of Athens, Feastday Overture and King Stephan Overture are some examples of what we would contemporarily term “selling out.” By 1810 he was all but functionally deaf and found himself at another personal and professional crossroad. How he emerged from this helped transition musical style towards Romanticism. This new personal crisis affected Beethoven in the mid 1810's to a degree that his composing all but stopped. In 1806 his younger brother's Kaspar had married Johanna Reiß just a few months before she gave birth to their son Karl. The older Beethoven objected to this sexual transgression vociferously (despite his own well documented patronage of prostitutes) and became Johanna's vocal antagonist. When in 1811 she was convicted of embezzlement (she staged a burglary of jewelry she was selling on commission) this only confirmed Ludwig's judgment of her character. Upon Kaspar's death in 1815 Beethoven petitioned to become his nephew's guardian at the exclusion of his sister-in-law, arguing her low moral character was evidenced in her pre-marriage pregnancy and theft record. The ensuing legal battle consumed Beethoven's (as well as Johanna's) emotions, money, energy and time over the next five years. The name-calling between the two adults (Johanna was often referred to as The Queen of the Night by Beethoven, in allusion to the murderous protagonist of Mozart's The Magic Flute) took its toll, quite predictably, in young Karl. His life alternated, depending on the court order du jour, between boarding school, his uncle's care (who addressed him as “my loving son”) and, after frequent escapes, his mother's lodgings. Beethoven had insisted on working this through the nobility's court system (there was a separate one for commoners and he was still delusional about his noble birth, arguing the “van” was a Dutch approximation to the German aristocratic “von”), which rejected his petition back to the plebeian court in 1820. That same year, Johanna, unmarried, had another child who was recognized and supported by a well-to-do bell founder. Karl felt supplanted and confused (did I mention that Johanna named this daughter Ludovica?) and continued to spend time, albeit not without much conflict, with his exacting uncle. Although tempers did settle considerably after 1820 and Beethoven was able to resume his musical work, this back and forth eventually proved too much emotional turmoil for Karl, and he attempted suicide in 1826. Shocked at this action, Beethoven relented on his control and allowed him, after a reconciliation of sorts, to join the army. They never saw each other again. Many historians have speculated that Beethoven had romantic feelings for Johanna, citing as proof the passionate response that her marriage to her brother incited, as well as the almost pathological anger of their legal dealings. Some even hypothesized that she was the enigmatic “Immortal Beloved” that Beethoven addressed in letters from July of 1812. These letters, found among his papers after his death, acknowledged something of a functional, or at least reciprocal, relationship, and detail the working out of several meetings in Bohemia that summer. Much research has gone into cracking the code of this mystery, and there is much confidence in that the “Immortal Beloved” was Antoine Brentano, née Birkenstock, and sister in law of the poet Clemens Brentano (Beethoven was a family friend of the Brentanos and dedicated several works to her, most notably the Diabelli variations op. 120). The letters reveal a passionate affair that was, nonetheless, short lived; Antoine moved back to her husband's native Frankfort in November of 1812 and they never met again.

At the same time Beethoven was attending this personal crisis, Europe was recovering form the Napoleonic Wars and beginning a sort of post-enlightenment in the process. The Viennese political repression that was deemed as necessary to counter the French aggression in the early 1800's, stayed in place well after the French ceased being a threat and, in time, the Viennese seem to get used to living in a police state. Perhaps because of this, it was music, the most abstract (and therefore politically speaking “safest”) of the arts that became the symbol of its culture. The taste of music shifted to the less troubling and more direct Biedermeier style. (Biedermeier was a stern bourgeois schoolmaster character created by Ludwig Eichrodt and its application to German culture refers to the new post-war sense of domestic harmony and a renewed interest in the decorative arts.) Rossini's Operas were in, as was house-made chamber music of intimate character and lacking virtuoso indulgence in the manner of some Schubert, Mendelssohn and Schumann. If Beethoven late works don't fit it into this category, then certainly the fact that he was revered as an elder-statesman of the craft and acknowledged as a master of classical style allowed him to develop away from what was considered current and fashionable.

Beethoven's late works can be said to be the most intimate and introspective of his output. After 1812 he ceased writing the trios, concertos and symphonies (the 9th Symphony of 1824 is a bit of an outlier and more representative of middle period heroism) all forms that were trademarks of his most popular and public middle period. Instead, Beethoven turned to the more ancient past and became preoccupied with the likes of Palestrina, Bach and Handel. As a student he had travelled to Vienna to conquer counterpoint, and now in his old age, this was a new obsession. Although fugato writing is present in many of his earlier works (notably the slow movements of the Eroica, 7th Symphony and many other development sections), in his late years Beethoven indulged in the writing of several stand-alone fugues, and included them as full movements for the String Quartet op. 130, the Cello Sonata op. 102 No. 2, and the Piano Sonatas opp. 101, 106 and 110. As before, the theme and variation continued to be a favorite topic but now, in stark contrast to the melodic and ornamental style variation sets he had written in his youth, the theme becomes the mere raw materials for the composer to combine more freely and sometimes in manners that make the theme almost unrecognizable. As a collection, certainly the most meaningful of this period is the set of six works for string quartets opp. 127, 130, 131, 132, 133, and 135, which range in dates from 1824 to right before his death. In these works a gothic sense of counterpoint is a sharp contrast to earlier melody-based classicism. There are several autobiographical touches also, which underscore their “private” and personal nature (most were premiered in house concerts and the opp. 132 and 135 were never played during his lifetime). The very abstract nature of this music, the experimentation with pre-tonal modes, the enigmatic personal quotations and the thickness of the baroque-like counterpoint made it unintelligible to many listeners (many today, still). Upon listening to the op. 133 Fugue for String Quartet a contemporary reviewer deemed it “something only Moroccans might enjoy,” which illustrates how even the initiated listener in 1826 could so gravely misunderstand both Beethoven and Morocco.

Beethoven wrote the two op. 102 Sonatas for Cello and Pianoforte in 1815, and they constitute the only meaningful works from that year he was able to publish, his slow down precipitated by the situation of guardianship of his nephew as described above. The dedication of the works changed a few times, first going to his friend Charles Neate, partly as a favor to help him secure publishing for some of his works in London. When these publications didn't materialize, Beethoven changed the dedication to Countess Erdödy, the matriarch of an influential Hungarian noble family in whose home he had resided in 1808 (the end of that domestic relationship is frankly bizarre, when Beethoven accuses – probably correctly – the Countess of paying some of her servants for sexual favors and then moves out and takes lodgings in a building that also housed a well know brothel!).  Although the Sonatas existed before the Erdödy dedication, it is plausible to think that Beethoven recycled them as a peace offering after the fiasco of 1808 and thought they would please a family known for organizing house concerts of the highest order (the op. 69 Cello Sonata had been premiered at their home in one of his last public performances).

The Sonata in C Major No. 4 is in two movements in a manner that harkens back to the op. 5 model. As both op. 5, each movement has a slow opening that precedes a compact more structured form. If this form is the model of early classicism, the content is anything but. The slow introductions, instead of simple triadic and rhetorical curtain risers, are fully conversational in the melodic exchange between the instruments. The opening Andante, particularly, has an almost Siciliane lilt, or at least a reference to it, that makes it quasi baroque in its dance-like quality and affect. The sonata form of the Allegro vivace is extremely compact. Maybe most notable in this regard is the transition (or lack thereof) between the defiant main theme of spiky dotted rhythms and the sinuous and gentle second theme of legato descending triads. Two beats of complete silence connect the two in a rhetorical gesture that strikes one as the sudden and awkward realization of someone that has shared too much. Similarly, the second movement opens with a slow Adagio where both instruments freely trade melismatic arabesques to the point where these lines morph into a recollection of the opening Andante. This recollection is brief, and the Allegro vivace that follows is another tightly wound sonata form with minimal ornaments. Once again we drive energetically towards a brick wall of complete silence that begins the second theme, this time only to find this “melody” is a collection of pregnant pauses that imitate the mumbling of someone attempting, and failing, to thread thoughts together into a sentence.

The Sonata No. 5 op. 102, No. 2 is, in its thematic development, a study in contrasts from its companion. Whereas in No. 4 each section was outlined sharply, almost slapped together in a transition-less collage (or poorly photoshopped, to use a current expression), here the narrative is integrated and smooth. The first theme, with its celebratory opening salvo of octave leaps, adapts into a sequence that transitions into the second theme, which is itself accompanied by a quieter version of the same opening gesture. This sense of complete self-incorporation is carried into the second Adagio movement, which constitutes the only full slow movement of all of the Cello Sonatas. It seemed Beethoven was unsure of how to write singing melodic music for the cello and went through a bit of pain (or at least four complete sonatas) to avoid writing a slow cantinelamovement. Here he meets us halfway, ostensibly dressing up a conventional ABA song form and rendering it as a quasi set of theme and variations (which he was quite comfortable writing!). The opening chorale-like theme is another reminder of the church music motif that permeates so much of his late music, and the entire movement comes across, if not monothematic, at least as a measly quarter of a turn on a Kaleidoscope, where a limited palette of shapes and colors is maximized for greatest contrast. A short transition of hesitant scales leads directly into the final Allegro which, as the cello first announces, is that most gothic and self-referential of musical forms: a fugue. In this case double fugue in four voices. The first subject is almost Gigue-like in its dance character, while the second, which comes after a silence a good 2/3 into the piece, is serene and serious. Fragments of both get combined on a busy and raucous ending that mixes so completely these characters that the listener is left with the impression that a highly charged experience has taken place, only one would be hard pressed to describe it as a stern lecture or unbounded joyful. (The fact that the second subject of this fugue is a perfect transposition of the fugue theme from Bach's Well-Tempered Klavier, Book II, No. 20 might be attributed to the fact that Beethoven willfully quoted Bach, or a freak coincidence, or simply that when writing a fugue everybody will, sooner or later, sound a bit like Bach.)

Towards the end of his life Beethoven made peace with many with whom he had quarreled (and the list was long). Upon finding out that Johanna was under dire financial stress and could not afford her medicines, he secretly sent her money. His surviving brother Nikolaus (from whom he had been estranged since 1812) housed him during his illness in late 1826 and it was at his house that he formally reconciled with Johanna and Karl (whose last surviving letter to him is signed “your beloved son”). Perhaps most importantly, with this last period works he came closest to accepting himself as a composer, finally free of Father-teacher figures, political interests or financial commissions. It is a truism to say that as the need to explain himself decreased, the abstraction in his music increased. Perhaps it is as if the silence of deafness shut off every other expectation and all that was left to write were the sounds he needed to hear.


© 2014 Pablo Mahave-Veglia