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Beethoven's Chamber Music in Context

Beethoven's Chamber Music in Context

Angus Watson
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 318
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  • Book Info
    Beethoven's Chamber Music in Context
    Book Description:

    Watson provides professional and amateur musicians, and music lovers generally, with a complete survey of Beethoven's chamber music and the background to each individual work - the loyalty of patrons, musicians and friends on the one hand; increasing deafness and uncertain health on the other. Attention is paid to the influence of such large-scale compositions as the Eroica Symphony and Fidelio on the chamber music of his middle years and the Missa Solemnis and the Ninth Symphony on his late quartets. The author examines Beethoven's ever-increasing freedom of form - largely a result of his mastery of improvisation and a powerful symbol of the fusion of classical discipline with the subversive spirit of romantic adventure which characterises his mature music. Beethoven's friends were not shy about asking him what his music meant, or what inspired him, and it is clear that he attached the greatest importance to the words he used when describing the character of his compositions. 'The tempo is more like the body,' he wrote when commending Malzel's invention of the metronome, 'but these indications of character certainly refer to the spirit.' ANGUS WATSON, a violinist and conductor, has been Director of Music at Stowe School, Winchester College and Wells Cathedral School, one of Britain's specialist music schools. From 1984-1989 he was Dean of Music at the newly founded Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-909-1
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-v)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vi-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-ix)
    David Cairns

    Angus Watson has set himself to survey the entire body of chamber works composed by Beethoven between 1792, when he settled in Vienna, and 1827, the year of his death, and to place each one in the context of Beethoven’s life and his relationships with contemporaries, and of the works in other genres that he was writing at the time – a formidable challenge and one that, to my mind, he rises to magnificently.

    The story of the thirty-five year journey from the piano trios, op. 1, startling fruit of Beethoven’s studies with Haydn, to the visionary beauties of the last...

  4. Preface
    (pp. x-xi)
  5. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Angus Watson
  6. PART ONE Context

    • CHAPTER 1 Arrival and Relaunch in Vienna, 1792
      (pp. 2-3)

      A few of Beethoven’s earliest compositions were published in Bonn in the 1780s and early 1790s, but when he finally moved to Vienna in November 1792, he decided to delay any further publications until he was satisfied that he could make the greatest possible impact in a variety of genres and styles. Though already celebrated as a virtuoso pianist and master of improvisation, he held back as a composer, spending his first three years there revising the best of his earlier compositions, writing new ones and learning what he could from Haydn and others. In 1794, he was particularly cross...

    • CHAPTER 2 Beethoven, Pianist and String Player
      (pp. 4-9)

      As one of the leading pianists of his generation, Beethoven took it for granted that he would be the first to perform his own violin sonatas, cello sonatas and piano trios with leading string players; this was his personal chamber music, personal in a way that his string trios and string quartets could never be. His brilliance and originality as a pianist owed much to Christian Gottlob Neefe, who, though a Lutheran, became organist at the Catholic court in Bonn in 1782. In addition to piano and organ lessons, Neefe taught him composition and thorough-bass and introduced him to a...

    • CHAPTER 3 Amateurs, Patrons and Professionals
      (pp. 10-13)

      In 1796, four years after Beethoven’s arrival in Vienna, theJahrbuch der Tonkunst von Wien und Praglisted ‘the names and activities of 210 Viennese musicians under the titleVirtuosen und Dilletante. According to the descriptions, all these ladies and gentlemen – aristocrats and middle-class people, singers and instrumentalists, professionals and amateurs – were engaged in lively musical activities.’¹ Some aristocrats were capable of playing at the highest professional level, among them two of Beethoven’s later pupils, Baroness Dorothea von Ertmann and Archduke Rudolph, the Emperor’s youngest brother and future Cardinal Archbishop of Olmütz. Both were sensitive and authentic interpreters of his...

    • CHAPTER 4 The Spirit of the Composition
      (pp. 14-18)

      Initially, the amateurs and professionals who played and listened to Beethoven’s early compositions may have felt reassured by the apparent familiarity of his musical language. But the perceptive ones among them would soon have realized that his was an authentically new and original voice, especially when they heard his early C minor works: the Piano Trio, op. 1 no. 3, the String Trio, op. 9 no. 3, and thePathétiqueSonata, op. 13, or the G minor Cello Sonata, op. 5 no. 2, and several movements in the op. 18 string quartets. Some aspects of his originality were clear from...

  7. PART TWO 1793–9

    • CHAPTER 5 1793–5 Three Piano Trios, op. 1
      (pp. 20-30)

      Beethoven’s decision to delay for three years the publication of his ‘more important works’, until he was satisfied that they would make an impact in Viennese musical circles, was a shrewd one. Prince Lichnowsky was determined to do what he could to help, and is thought to have paid for three advertisements (9, 13, 16 May 1795) in theWiener Zeitungannouncing the publication by Mathias Artaria of the three piano trios, op. 1. Subscriptions were invited and the response was so enthusiastic that the contract between Beethoven and Artaria was signed soon afterwards and the first printed copies appeared...

    • CHAPTER 6 1796 Two Cello Sonatas, op. 5
      (pp. 31-39)

      Beethoven’s first two cello sonatas are extraordinary. Although treasured by cellists, their ground-breaking originality has too often been underestimated and their many beauties overlooked by music-lovers more generally – so much so that Nigel Fortune found it necessary to make a special plea for them as ‘among the finest of Beethoven’s early works … and still too little recognized as such’, describing the first movement of the G minor sonata in particular as ‘arguably [Beethoven’s] most notable achievement to date’.¹ Historically, they are important because they are the first true cello and piano duo sonatas to be composed by anyone. Although...

    • CHAPTER 7 1797–8 Three Violin Sonatas, op. 12
      (pp. 40-49)

      Eighteen years before Beethoven wrote the first duo sonatas for cello and piano, discussed in the previous chapter, Mozart had composed his first real duos for violin and piano: six sonatas, K301–6, written in 1778, partly in Mannheim and partly in Paris and published the same year. In a letter to his father and sister, dated 6 October 1777, he described ‘six duets for clavicembalo and violin by Schuster, which I have often played here. They are not bad. If I stay on, I shall write six myself, as they are very popular here.’¹ Mozart, who like Beethoven was...

    • CHAPTER 8 1794?–1798 Five String Trios, op. 3, op. 8, op. 9
      (pp. 50-66)

      Count Anton Apponyi, to whom Haydn dedicated six string quartets, cannot have been alone among Beethoven’s early patrons and friends in finding the composer’s apparent refusal to write string quartets thoroughly mystifying.¹ After all, Beethoven was a pupil of Haydn, the creator of the classical Viennese string quartet, so what was the problem? Even when, at a soirée in the Lichnowsky palace in 1795, the Count specifically ‘asked Beethoven to compose a quartet for him for a given compensation’,² nothing came of it. Two other chamber works for strings were published the following year: op. 3, the first of Beethoven’s...

    • CHAPTER 9 1795?–1801 Chamber Music for Wind, Strings and Piano
      (pp. 67-82)

      Before Beethoven finally left Bonn for Vienna in November 1792, he had presented the Elector, Archduke Maximilian Franz, with his latest composition, a wind Octet. It was a particularly apt choice, as the Archduke enjoyed listening to wind-bandTafelmusikwhen he ate his supper, a habit which Mozart caricatured with such dramatic effect in the last act ofDon Giovanni, where the Don, entertained by an on-stage wind-band, awaits the fateful arrival of the Commendatore’s statue. Once settled in Vienna, Beethoven made an arrangement of the Octet for String Quintet and it was published in 1796 as op. 4. He...

    • CHAPTER 10 1798–1800 Six String Quartets, op. 18
      (pp. 83-104)

      Where the serious Count Apponyi had failed in 1795 to persuade Beethoven to compose even a single string quartet, the young and enthusiastic Prince Franz Joseph Lobkowitz (1772–1816), not a man for half measures where music was concerned, succeeded triumphantly three years later when he commissioned no fewer than six quartets from Beethoven and a further six from Haydn. To be fair, the Prince was luckier than the Count in matters of timing; Beethoven was so pleased with his op. 9 string trios – ‘the best of my works’ – completed earlier in 1798 and published the same year, that he...

  8. PART THREE 1800–1803

    • CHAPTER 11 1800–1801 Two Violin Sonatas, op. 23 & op. 24
      (pp. 106-113)

      During the early years of the new century, Beethoven became increasingly impatient with those who could not keep pace with his ideas, among them Haydn. ‘His first works pleased me considerably’, Haydn told Giuseppe Carpani, his first biographer; ‘[but] I must admit that I don’t understand the later ones. It seems to me that he continually improvises.’¹ Partly as a result perhaps, Beethoven became less content with his earlier, more popular music like the Septet, as is shown in his celebrated conversation with Wenzel Krumpholz, quoted above.² However, the music he composed during the first three years of the new...

    • CHAPTER 12 1801 String Quintet in C major, op. 29
      (pp. 114-118)

      The C major Quintet, composed in 1801, and like the op. 23 and op. 24 violin sonatas dedicated to Count von Fries, has remained something of an outsider in Beethoven’s chamber music, considered ‘important’ by most writers, but not often played. Robert Simpson regards its neglect as ‘shameful’, claiming, perhaps provocatively, that it ‘could be in some ways regarded as a crown to op. 18’, praising in particular its ‘breadth and economy of line’, and adding that ‘fine works for this medium are not so plentiful that chamber players can afford to ignore it as often as they do.’¹ Other...

    • CHAPTER 13 1802 Three Violin Sonatas, op. 30
      (pp. 119-129)

      Beethoven moved to the village of Heiligenstadt on doctor’s orders in April 1802, hoping that a few months of peace and quiet might lead to an improvement in his hearing. He took with him sketches¹ for the three op. 30 violin sonatas which he had begun the previous month, and in an extraordinary outpouring of creative energy completed them in May – a remarkable achievement, not least because he had to compose a new finale for the first of the three, the Sonata in A major, when he realized that the original Presto had outgrown itself. He was certainly right to...

    • CHAPTER 14 1802–3 Violin Sonata in A major, op. 47 (Kreutzer)
      (pp. 130-138)

      Beethoven first met Rodolphe Kreutzer (1766–1831) in 1798, when the violinist visited Vienna as a member of the French ambassador, General Bernadotte’s, entourage. Though German by birth, Kreutzer had been brought up in Paris and became a leading exponent of the influential French Violin School, which Beethoven admired so much. During the visit, Kreutzer and Beethoven performed together on at least one occasion – a soirée at the Lobkowitz palace on 5 April 1798 – perhaps playing one or more of Beethoven’s newly composed violin sonatas, op. 12. After Kreutzer returned to Paris they never met again, but Beethoven wrote friendly...

  9. PART FOUR 1804–9

    • CHAPTER 15 1804–6 In the wake of Fidelio
      (pp. 140-145)

      After completing theKreutzerSonata and theEroicaSymphony in 1803, Beethoven devoted most of the next two and a half years toFidelio, his only complete opera. During those years he composed the Triple Concerto, op. 56, and three important piano sonatas – op. 53 (Waldstein), op. 54, and op. 57 (Appassionata) – but, for the time being, he wrote no chamber music. The opera was not well received, and Beethoven set it aside after revision and a second round of performances early in 1806. However, after yet further revision, it was revived to great acclaim during the Congress of Vienna...

    • CHAPTER 16 1806 Three String Quartets, op. 59 (Razumovsky)
      (pp. 146-160)

      ‘Oh, they are not for you, but for a later age!’¹ Beethoven told the Italian violinist Felix Radicati, who, at his request, had just added some fingering to the violin parts of his three new string quartets. Radicati had found them incomprehensible – not surprisingly perhaps, as the op. 59 quartets are about as far removed from the op. 18 set, completed six years earlier, as is theEroicafrom the Second Symphony. Nonetheless, Beethoven himself was pleased with his ‘new violin quartets’, as he called them in a letter to Breitkopf & Härtel, dated 5 July 1806: ‘Indeed I am...

    • CHAPTER 17 1807–8 Cello Sonata in A major, op. 69
      (pp. 161-166)

      An attractive feature of Beethoven’s post-Fidelioyears was his decision to dedicate at least some of his compositions to close friends, rather than to grandees; friends like Ignaz von Gleichenstein (1778–1828), a keen amateur cellist and, in the opinion of another member of Beethoven’s circle, the historian Julius Schneller, ‘a man of the greatest probity and … the kindest [of] men’.¹ Gleichenstein was a state counsellor working in the War Department and his official duties included at least one intelligence mission to assess Napoleon’s troop movements, after war broke out yet again between France and Austria. He helped Beethoven...

    • CHAPTER 18 1808 Two Piano Trios, op. 70
      (pp. 167-176)

      Beethoven began work on the first of his two op. 70 piano trios early in 1808 and both were completed later that remarkable year, during which he also composed the A major Cello Sonata, the Fifth and Sixth symphonies, the Mass in C major and the Choral Fantasia. The trios were published in 1809, and appeared separately, the first in June and the second in August. In a letter to Breitkopf & Härtel, Beethoven remarked that his reason for writing them was that ‘such trios are now rather scarce’,¹ but he seems to have made a conscious decision in those...

    • CHAPTER 19 1809 String Quartet in E flat major, op. 74 (Harp)
      (pp. 177-184)

      The year 1809 began well for Beethoven. The legal contract designed to provide him with an annual income for life, which had been initiated by Baron Gleichenstein and Countess Erdödy, was agreed on 26 February and signed by three of Beethoven’s young patrons, Archduke Rudolph, Prince Kinsky and Prince Lobkowitz:

      The daily proofs which Herr Ludwig van Beethoven is giving of his extraordinary talents as a musician and composer awaken the desire that he surpass the great expectations which are justified by his past achievements. But as it has been demonstrated that only one who is as free from care...

    • CHAPTER 20 1810 String Quartet in F minor, op. 95 (Quartetto serioso)
      (pp. 186-192)

      Beethoven completed fewer compositions in 1810 than in previous years, partly as a result, perhaps, of his despair when Therese Malfatti turned down his proposal of marriage: ‘Your news has plunged me from the heights of the most sublime ecstasy down into the depths’, he told his friend Ignaz von Gleichenstein, who had been given the unenviable task by the Malfatti family of telling Beethoven that he was no longer welcome at their home, except on musical evenings. ‘For your poor B, no happiness can come from outside. You must create everything for yourself in your own heart; and only...

    • CHAPTER 21 1810–11 Piano Trio in B flat major, op. 97 (Archduke)
      (pp. 193-200)

      The Piano Trio in B flat major, op. 97, Beethoven’s last complete piano trio,¹ could hardly be more different from the F minor String Quartet, even though sketches for the two works appear in consecutive sketchbooks.² In contrast to the personal traumas and tensions expressed in theQuartetto serioso, theArchdukeTrio is unhurried, spacious and noble; an Olympian work unconcerned with the day-to-day cares of ordinary mortals. It has its enigmatic moments, especially in the last two movements, but there are plenty of enigmas, no doubt, on Mount Olympus too.

      An early autograph dated 3 March – 20 March 1811³...

    • CHAPTER 22 1812 Violin Sonata in G major, op. 96
      (pp. 201-208)

      ‘Only Kreutzer can be compared to him, but Rode only to himself’, Ernst Ludwig Gerber declared in theTonkünstler-Lexicon,¹ so expectations were high when Pierre Rode (1774–1830) visited Vienna on his way back to Paris from St Petersburg in December 1812. He booked the Redoutensaal for his celebrity concert in mid-January 1813, and the composer Louis Spohr, who had been overwhelmed by Rode’s virtuosity in Brunswick ten years earlier, went to hear him in a state of ‘almost feverish excitement’. He was quickly disillusioned, however: ‘I now found his playing cold and mannered, missed his former audacity in overcoming...

    • CHAPTER 23 1815 Two Cello Sonatas, op. 102
      (pp. 209-216)

      In spite of his mercurial temperament, Beethoven was never without friends. ‘Friendship is a shade in sunlight and a shelter in a downpour of rain’, he told Johannes Buel, when the tutor to Count von Browne’s son left Vienna for his home in Switzerland in 1805. ‘Reflect back … and you [will realize] that we saw each other too little.’¹ Beethoven felt the loss of particular friends keenly; friends like Karl Amenda, a Lutheran pastor and talented violinist who had left Vienna for Latvia in 1799. ‘A thousand times I recall you to mind and your patriarchal simplicity’, he wrote...

  10. PART SIX 1816–27

    • CHAPTER 24 1815–24 The Late String Quartets – Context and Background
      (pp. 218-223)

      ‘Beethoven now busies himself, as Papa Haydn once did, with arrangements of Scottish songs. He is apparently quite incapable of greater accomplishments.’¹ When theMissa Solemnisand the Ninth Symphony appeared two or three years later, the unfortunate critic who wrote those words in theAllgemeine musikalische Zeitungin 1821 must have thanked his lucky stars that his article had been published anonymously. But he had a point. The last decade of Beethoven’s life began strangely enough. For several years after completing the two cello sonatas, op. 102, discussed in the previous chapter, he composed no chamber music of importance...

    • CHAPTER 25 1824–5 String Quartet in E flat major, op. 127
      (pp. 224-233)

      After Prince Razumovky’s quartet was disbanded in 1814, Schuppanzigh spent some years in Russia and introduced Beethoven’s more recent compositions to music lovers there. Among them was Prince Nikolay Borisovich Golitsïn (1794–1866), a keen amateur cellist and composer, who would become one of Beethoven’s most enthusiastic admirers: ‘Je lui ai trouvé cette Sublimité qui préside à toutes vos Compositions’, he told Beethoven in a letter written in November 1823; ‘et qui rendent vos oeuvres inimitables.’¹ The Prince was clearly a man of action as well as words and, not content with ordering a pre-publication score of the Missa Solemnis...

    • CHAPTER 26 1825 String Quartet in A minor, op. 132
      (pp. 234-243)

      A few days after the concert mentioned in the last chapter, Beethoven again became seriously ill. Dr Anton Braunhofer, one of Vienna’s leading physicians, did not mince his words: ‘No wine, no coffee, no spices of any kind. I’ll arrange matters with the cook’, he wrote in Beethoven’s conversation book on 18 April 1825; ‘then I will guarantee you a full recovery, which understandably means a lot to me, as your admirer and friend … You must do some work in the daytime so that you can sleep at night. If you want to get entirely well and live a...

    • CHAPTER 27 1825 String Quartet in B flat major, op. 130
      (pp. 244-255)

      While still at work on the Quartet in A minor, Beethoven began sketching ideas for the third and last of the Golitsïn quartets in May or June 1825. According to Karl Holz, ‘new ideas streamed from [his] inexhaustible fantasy’¹ and, partly as a result perhaps, the number of movements in each successive quartet rose inexorably from four in op. 127 to five in op. 132 (if the Alla marcia and the ensuing recitative are counted as one movement rather than two); six in op. 130 (with an alternative finale added later) to seven in op. 131, dropping back to four...

    • CHAPTER 28 1825–6 Grosse Fuge, op. 133
      (pp. 256-261)

      Beethoven planned the original finale for the last of his Golitsïn quartets on the grandest scale imaginable. It is a work in which emotional and musical extremes are explored to the limit – and then beyond. Like the ‘little finale’ which replaced it, theGrosse Fugefollowed the Cavatina without a break, so it too can only be fully appreciated in the context of fear and sorrow, but also consolation, so hauntingly expressed in the Cavatina and its recitative. Beethoven’s rare, almost unprecedented, use of block dynamics in theGrosse Fugeprovides the clearest explanation of the powerful impact at which...

    • CHAPTER 29 1825–6 String Quartet in C sharp minor, op. 131
      (pp. 262-273)

      In contrast to Beethoven’s frequent bouts of illness and worries over Karl, his domestic circumstances were remarkably settled when composing his last two string quartets. Quite by chance, his move in October 1825 to a splendid set of rooms in the Schwarzspanierhaus brought him to within a stone’s throw of the apartment of his old friend Stephan von Breuning. Beethoven was twelve years old when he first met ‘his guardian angels’ as he described the von Breuning family. Their widowed mother, Helene, had asked him to give piano lessons to her two youngest children, and it was not long before...

    • CHAPTER 30 1826 String Quartet in F major, op. 135
      (pp. 274-284)

      ‘Here, my dear friend, is my last quartet’, Beethoven told the Paris publisher Moritz Schlesinger in a letter written in October 1826, during his two-month visit to his brother Johann in Gneixendorf.

      It will be the last; and indeed it has given me much trouble, because I could not bring myself to compose the last movement. But as your letters were reminding me of it, in the end I decided to compose it. And that is the reason why I have written the motto: ‘Der schwer gefasste Entschluss – Muß es sein? – Es muß sein!’ (The decision taken with difficulty – Must...

  11. APPENDIX 1 Early Chamber Music for Strings and Piano
    (pp. 285-285)
  12. APPENDIX 2 Variations
    (pp. 286-287)
  13. APPENDIX 3 Chamber Music for Wind
    (pp. 288-289)
  14. APPENDIX 4 Arrangements
    (pp. 290-291)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 292-296)
  16. Index of Beethoven’s Music by Opus Number
    (pp. 297-300)
  17. Beethoven Index
    (pp. 301-301)
  18. General Index
    (pp. 302-308)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 309-309)