performed by Gidon Kremer and Martha Argerich
(cover image by Annie Spratt)
As discussed in Monday’s post, these three violin sonatas are Beethoven’s first, dating from 1798, and dedicated to Antonio Salieri, the supposed antagonist of that Mozart film. These works, unsurprisingly, do derive from the heritage of Mozart and Haydn, with whom Beethoven had been studying around the time of the composition of these works. (The above video should begin at around 19:27, which is the beginning of the second sonata in this video that contains the three back-to-back.)
As with the first, the violin takes more of a front seat than may have been typical in other works of the time. It too is in three movements, with a duration of a little under 16 minutes, making it just slightly the shortest of the three sonatas, at least in Kremer and Argerich’s recordings.
In contrast with the big, bold opening of the first sonata, this one seems almost to begin mid-phrase. The first movement sees a conversation between the two themes, and also very much between the two instruments, with a brief development, which doesn’t really go much of anywhere, except to a perhaps surprising C major key. It’s very brief, as discussed Monday. This small stature of the work helps us get an idea, or keep an idea, of the themes and the content, keep it all fresh in our memory. The only thing that makes up for the very brief development section is a coda, which ends abruptly, seemingly mid-phrase. Again, every turn, pause, call-and-response, contour, shadow of a minor-key phrase, seems so exquisitely placed. Listen for the repeat of the exposition and how short the development is.
The second movement is a bit more melancholy. The piano takes the lead with many phrases here, and the violin only echoes the sentiments, but after a few rounds of this, the violin takes over. Even then, there isn’t a lot of complexity, but in listening to it, we realize that there needn’t be. It’s short but effective, sweet, nostalgic, unadorned in a way that makes it seem honest and intimate.
The third movement is again a rondo. It’s equal parts charm, bounce and beauty, but again more subdued than its counterpart in the first sonata. Pay attention to some of the ornate piano work under the violin in this movement. While the piano doesn’t steal the spotlight, it gives such color and vibrance to the movement. Just as the first movement ends abruptly with a hanging incomplete statement from the violin, the piano takes a bit of revenge here, getting the final word in after a big unison close. It ekes out one final blurp to close the movement and the piece.
It’s not the kind of thing that’s going to send people rolling in the aisles, but it’s the sort of thing that it seems Beethoven loves to do, throw in a little joke here and there of some kind, a little mischievous wink. He may not have been a lover of potty humor or written vulgar letters to his cousin like Mozart did, but he can include a little musical joke here and there.
So that’s two of the three opus twelve sonatas, and I guess that means you know what’s coming Friday. Stay tuned for that, and I promise, there’s only one more Beethoven article after that before we move on to someone else. Thanks so much for reading.