Music on the Hill: River City Trio
On January 7th, Music on the Hill is pleased to present River City Trio to play Chamber Music of Beethoven.
Due to unforeseen circumstances, the performance of McGuire, Ross, Lovelace Trio has been postponed. Peter McGuire and Friends will perform a benefit concert scheduled for June 10, 2018. Please check back for details!
Sonata for Piano and Violin in F Major, Op. 24, “Spring” (1800-1801)
II. Adagio molto espressivo
III. Scherzo: Allegro molto
IV. Rondo: Allegro ma non troppo
Beethoven had a great love of nature and was particularly happy and inspired when in the forest or under the stars. The presence of God for him was reinforced by the beauty of nature. This tender side – bucolic, romantic, and gentle – contrasts with the well-known characteristics of extreme dynamic tension and emotional aura in much of Beethoven’s music, but it is indeed found throughout his oeuvre and is an important element in understanding the composer’s complex personality.
In an attempt to define Beethoven’s genius, Leonard Bernstein maintained that the composer had an ‘inexplicable ability to know what the next note had to be.’ Certainly, in listening to any of Beethoven’s works, one is aware that the composer is very conscious of what he is doing. Moreover, there is an incredible combination of sureness of musical direction and complete submission to the higher powers. Beethoven’s music is, without doubt, miraculous and godly. Therefore, it is not possible to imitate his music; it is always distinctive, uncontested, and in its own class.
The ‘Spring’ sonata, Op. 24, is the fifth of Beethoven’s ten sonatas for piano and violin. Composed between 1800 and 1801, it was dedicated, along with the Sonata in A minor Op. 23 to one of Beethoven’s most generous Viennese patrons, Count Moritz von Fries. Both sonatas were originally intended to be paired as Op. 23, Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, but through the fault of the engraver, the ‘Spring’ sonata became Opus 24.
One of the most popular of Beethoven’s sonatas for piano and violin, the work is easily remembered, even after first hearing. The music is full of joy, and its refreshing, hopeful quality makes the subtitle, ‘Spring,’ most appropriate. Throughout, the melodies are immediate, simple, and elegant. There are also humorous moments, reminding listeners that Beethoven was a master of fun and games as well.
‘Spring’ is one of only three of Beethoven’s piano and violin sonatas to be cast in four movements, the others being No. 7, Op. 30 No. 2, and No. 10, Op. 96. It opens with one of the most unforgettable melodies of all time played in F Major by the violin. The second theme which follows is more rhythmic and energetic, and the movement develops around the two contrasting themes. The slow movement in B-flat Major speaks simply and flowingly, with violin and piano alternating in presenting the theme in slightly different variations. The third movement, a scherzo and trio, is like a game of tag in which the violin and the piano bounce off each other. The coquettish impression is strengthened by the rhythmic playfulness. The finale is in rondo form, with a lyrical theme followed by three episodes. Lighthearted and spontaneous, its dotted rhythms exemplify Beethoven’s inventiveness and sense of humor.
Notes © 2004 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd
Cello Sonata in G minor Op. 5 No. 2
I. Adagio sostenuto e espressivo – Allegro molto più tosto presto
II. Rondo - Allegro
Beethoven’s two cello sonatas of Op. 5 share many characteristics. Each, for example, has a two-movement plan comprising an introductory adagio leading directly to a sonata-form allegro, followed by a rondo finale. But if the first of the set, the cello sonata in F major, is distinctly ‘Mozartean’ in inspiration, the second in G minor is more than a little ‘Handelian,’ and understandably so.
Both were written in 1796 at the court of King Friedrich Wilhelm II in Berlin, where a production of Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus was on offer at the Berlin Singakademie in the same year that Beethoven visited. King Friedrich Wilhelm was a charter member of the Handel fan club who had introduced George Frederick’s oratorios to the Prussian capital. He was also a more- than-passable cellist to boot, having been taught while still a princeling-in-short-pants by the virtuoso court cellist Jean-Pierre Duport (1741-1818), for whom the Op. 5 sonatas were written. What more attractive model could he adopt for a sonata to be performed by Duport himself in front of the King?
What Beethoven admired most in Handel was his ability to evoke an emotion, or construct an entire dramatic scene, out of the merest scrap of a motive, such as the three-note descending phrase that occurs so often in Judas Maccabaeus. Angus Watson finds that this motive structures much of the melodic material in Beethoven’s G minor sonata, as well. But more telling still is Beethoven’s pervasive use of dotted and double-dotted rhythms in the sonata’s opening Adagio sostenuto ed espressivo, in clear imitation of the French overture (also in G minor) that begins Handel’s oratorio.
Despite its mere two movements, there is nothing small-scale about this sonata. Beethoven’s austere and pathos-filled Adagio, dominated by a descending scale pattern and marked by many dramatic pauses, is just one of the ways in which Beethoven adds structural heft to its first movement. The exposition of the immediately following sonata-form movement virtually overflows with melodic ideas: there are two in its first theme group and two in its second, while the development section erupts with an intensity of emotion and virtuosity of piano writing that hint at Beethoven’s mature ‘heroic’ style. Capping off the first movement is a coda in which Beethoven lets his instrumentalists mull over what they have just played for the last time before the movement ends, grimly and grudgingly, with a stiffly Baroque tierce de Picardie in G major.
After all that heavy drama, Beethoven serves up a good-natured rondo finale with a sturdy opening refrain of small range that manages to thump and twinkle in turn. With a repetitive structure playfully phrased in alternating fragments of forte and piano, it drums its way into your head to become the most memorable melody of the movement. The intervening episodes, and even the refrain theme itself are continually developed and varied – sometimes cast in the minor mode, sometimes with the instruments chasing each other in canon – as if in a sonata movement. This finale simply overflows with rhythmic vitality, due to a near-constant chatter of rapid passagework on the part of both piano and cello.
Notes by Donald G. Gíslason © 2015
Piano Trio No. 1 in E-flat major, Op. 1
II. Adagio cantabile
III. Scherzo. Allegro assai
IV. Finale. Presto
"Strong, powerful, and moving," was how the critic of the powerful Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung described the set of piano trios that Ludwig van Beethoven chose to present to the world as his Opus 1. This praise came over a decade after the publication date of 1795-and in contrast to what were deemed the unsettling and overly challenging piano sonatas that had appeared more recently-but right out of the gate Beethoven's first official declaration in print as a composer was a stunning success, both critically and commercially.
The publication had been tactfully subsidized by one of the composer's most prominent and remarkably generous early patrons, to whom they were naturally dedicated: Prince Karl Lichnowsky. The trios-euphoniously called Trois Trios on the French title page, with Beethoven's first name correspondingly rendered as Louis-earned their composer a sum that, according to Maynard Solomon, was nearly equivalent to two years' salary had he remained at his position in the Bonn court. Even more, Beethoven's successful assessment of the public demand for new pianoforte-centered chamber music allowed him to establish a formidable identity with Vienna's leading publishers. The biographer Lewis Lockwood points out that, as a result, "he thought about composition and publication from early on as a single large-scale enterprise."
The Opus 1 set of Trios represents a culmination as much as a starting point. In fact Beethoven waited several years after resettling in Vienna in 1792 before issuing anything, while he continued to work on projects he had carried along from Bonn, initiated new ones, and set about shaping a legend through his hypnotic performances at the keyboard for an ever-growing circle of aristocratic admirers. There is evidence that the Trio in E-flat, which he placed first in the set, may have originated in Bonn.
Beethoven would have introduced these works in performances at Prince Lichnowsky's palace, probably in 1793; perhaps he filled out these musical gatherings with one of his indelible solo improvisations at the keyboard. Thereafter he obsessively revised before allowing them to be published. (The Second Piano Concerto, which predates the First, is an even more extreme example of a work Beethoven held onto for years before allowing it to be published.)
As artistic statements, these trios are extraordinary for their scope and breadth of ambition. Beethoven presents all three as large-scale four-movement works, bringing the set to its climax with a trio in the key he would redefine with his unique imprint: C minor (the most audacious of the bunch, and the one that famously gave Beethoven's sometime-teacher Haydn pause, for fear that it might go over the public's head).
There's something already characteristically Beethovenian about the opening summons of the Trio in E-flat major, with its shot-out-of-the-pistol chord followed by an optimistic, energetic rocket theme. Another of the young upstart's patrons, Count Waldstein, famously wrote in his personal album as he prepared to leave Bonn: "You will receive the spirit of Mozart from the hands of Haydn." In his own way, Beethoven does work out a kind of synthesis of these very different composers, with a Mozartean personality coming to the fore in the first movement's restless generosity of musical ideas. Already the coda reveals Beethoven's expansionist tendencies.
The piano again has the honors of launching the Adagio cantabile in A-flat major, a fusion of song and rondo. In the duet between the strings, Beethoven allots the cello a rare spotlight. This slow movement's pellucid melody-spinning might also be linked to Beethoven's deep regard for Mozart.
The vigorous rhythmic jests and accents of the Scherzo, in contrast, introduce a startling new perspective. "What key are we in?" Beethoven forces us to wonder, hinting at C minor before settling into the expected E-flat major. For all of his love-hate ambivalence toward Haydn, there's no doubting Beethoven's assimilation of the spirit of invention from that master. (Haydn had composed numerous piano trios but would shortly add his most profound contributions to the genre.) The canon-style cat-and-mouse chasing of themes in the main Scherzo frames a trio in which the strings' drone figure almost anticipates the parallel spot in the Scherzo of the Seventh Symphony.
After so much compositional finesse, Beethoven could hardly settle for a predictable rondo wrap-up. The piano's octave leaps-an innocent question mark-raise the curtain on a genuine party full of musical double entendres and other high jinks. Naturally Beethoven implicitly alludes to where we started, this time reversing the rocket's direction downward. As a final surprise, he blows up the coda into the equivalent of a subplot, starting with a non sequitur change of key before abruptly shifting gears to re-ground us in E-flat major.
© Thomas May, Kennedy-Center.org