Chamber Music in Purbeck – A Note to our Audience
Dear Purbeck Friends,
After a year almost devoid of live performances, we can’t wait to be back in Purbeck to play to you in person. As the cellist Yo-Yo Ma recently said, ‘Our job as performers is to make you, the audience, the most important people in the room’.
We musicians spend most of our lives trying to forge that kind of connection with people and we’re now almost gasping for the opportunity to resume, like fish out of water.
However, as we still won’t be allowed to play for you ‘live’ in February, we’ll be sending out a pre-recorded link, which we hope will be the next best thing – except for the lack of a glass of good wine and a plate of delicious canapés . . .
Our first recorded recital marks the beginning of the 251st Anniversary celebrations of Beethoven’s birth.
The only advantage of having waited so long to celebrate Beethoven with you is that we’ve now managed to programme not just two pieces of his music but five, spread across three recitals in February, March and April.
The first work in our programme on 27th February is Beethoven’s Sonata No 7 in C minor, Opus 30 number 2, written in 1802.
At the beginning of that year, on doctor’s orders, Beethoven had moved to the village of Heiligenstadt near Vienna. The idea was that a few months of peace and quiet might help improve his hearing and general health. It was during the latter part of 1802 that Beethoven wrote what was later to be known as the ‘Heiligenstadt Testament’, an anguished and often despairing outpouring concerning the effects of his increasing deafness. He never sent this testament to anyone and it was only found after his death.
The outer movements of this sonata are two of the stormiest that Beethoven ever wrote, though this is often a quiet, repressed kind of storm, occasionally exploding into loud turbulence. Anger and serenity, hope and despair, sadness and joy all inhabit this sonata, but they are most clearly juxtaposed in the first and last movements.
The first movement, Allegro con brio, begins quietly but tensely, with a curt and slightly military theme accompanied by rumbling semiquavers. The second subject is a crisp military march, beginning quietly as if in the distance. Remember that this was the time when the Napoleonic Wars were tearing Europe apart. At this time, Beethoven was as much troubled by events in the outside world as by his own increasing deafness.
The second movement, Adagio cantabile, is a heartfelt elegy, but crisp reminders of sharp military rhythms occur unexpectedly in the gentle violin descant part over the central theme in the piano.
The third movement, Scherzo and Trio, Allegro According to Anton Schindler, Beethoven’s one time secretary and general factotum, Beethoven considered reducing many of his four movement sonatas to just three when he was planning the definitive edition of his works in 1823. “He definitely wished to delete the Scherzo allegro from the highly emotional Sonata in C minor because of its incompatibility with the character of the work as a whole”. Fortunately he didn’t carry out the plan and this forceful, playful little movement survived. It shares a rather military character, especially in its snappy rhythms and explosive chords, with that of the first movement.
Finale: Allegro – Presto Like the first movement, this finale encompasses stark emotional extremes. The first theme is gruff, abrupt and imperious. By contrast, the second theme is pleading and lyrical, with surging dynamic shapes and accents. This theme is transformed into a powerful fugal section later in the movement. There is a swashbuckling march section, rhythmically simpler than that of the first movement. The coda – Presto (very fast!) brings the movement to a close with a startling variation of the two bar motif at the very beginning of the first movement and the insistent drum beats in the piano left-hand leave us with a sense of relentless ferocity.
The second work in our February programme will be Beethoven’s final piano/violin sonata, Opus 96 number 10, in G major. This work, gentle from the outset, offers a complete contrast to the C minor sonata.
In 1812, the year in which this work was composed, Beethoven had written (but never sent) a very emotional letter to his mysterious ‘Immortal Beloved’, who may well have been Antonie Brentano, unhappily married to a businessman, Franz, with whom she had six children. Beethoven had first met Antonie at her family mansion in Vienna in 1810, where he subsequently gave many musical soirées. They gradually fell in love. Antonie was often unwell and Beethoven would visit her and improvise at the piano in her anteroom, usually leaving without even speaking with her, having expressed in his music all that he felt. Antonie and her family finally left Vienna in November 1812 and it was probably during November and December that Beethoven wrote the first three movements of this final G major sonata. It’s the most fragile, but probably the most profoundly emotional, of all Beethoven’s piano/violin sonatas.
The first movement, Allegro moderato, begins gently and wistfully. The feel is almost pastoral. It is mostly restrained, rapt and conversational. It’s a movement of tender – and sometimes tremulous – exploration.
The second movement, Adagio espressivo, opens with a hymn-like melody in which Beethoven’s so-called ‘Farewell Motif’ appears no fewer than five times. This motif had already appeared in Beethoven’s ‘Harp’ string quartet and also in the first two bars of his piano sonata Opus 81a, ‘The Farewell’. There is expressive, coloratura like improvisation in this movement, something which Beethoven would use more and more in his later works. An intrusive C sharp in the violin leads straight into the third movement, Scherzo and Trio: Allegro which is anxious yet quiet in mood, full of off-beat accents. The trio, in E flat major, is carefree and relaxed, like the coda in bright G major, which prepares us for the very pastoral movement which follows.
This final movement, Poco Allegretto – Adagio espressivo – Poco Adagio – Presto, at first seems to be just a jolly folk song, but it’s followed by a series of adventurous improvisatory variations. The virtuoso violinist for whom this work was written, Pierre Rode, was known to be averse to ‘noisy’ finales, so Beethoven had deliberately avoided anything tempestuous in order to please him. Unfortunately, Rode barely bothered to practise his part prior to the first performance, (on 29th December 1812), whereas his piano partner, the Archduke Rudolph, had taken great pains to prepare his own part.