performed by Dumas and Pires
(cover image by Joshua Torres)
In typical subtitle fashion, the Spring label was given to this work after the composer’s death, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s inaccurate or unwarranted.
Beethoven’s fifth violin sonata was completed in 1801, and originally to be published under the same opus number (23) as the fourth, as a companion piece, but there was an issue with paper size, so they had to be published separately. It thus shares the same dedicatee, one Count Moritz von Fries.
The work is the first of Beethoven’s violin sonatas to be in four movements (one of only three out of his ten to be so structured), but still has a duration of only about 22 minutes, as follows:
- Adagio molto espressivo
- Scherzo– allegro molto
- Rondo: allegro ma non troppo
In contrast with the op. 23 sonata, which was predominantly dark (and in a minor key), we have yet another work of Beethoven’s in F, a bright, Pastoral key, so it’s easy to see this piece as op. 23’s counterpart, is it not?
This is our last (for a while) in a rather long stretch of Beethoven posts, so you may (justifiably) be tired of hearing what a rondo is, or how Beethoven’s secondary subject contrasts with the first, but it’s easy to see what the layout of this work is.
The first movement has, as expected, two themes, in two different key areas, F and C, but in contrast with the op. 23 sonata, it has a much sorter development and a longer exposition. In other words, the introductory part that presents the piece’s two main themes is much longer than the central part where they’re developed and played with.
All that aside, this is another one of those pieces where you just can’t miss the themes. The first is breathtakingly beautiful, and the result as each theme comes and goes is like the changing scenery on a mountain hike. It’s all essentially the same view, of the same area, but with different perspectives and vantage points, it consistently impresses and awes. There’s a carefree, beautiful spirit about this first movement that makes a strong argument for that Spring subtitle. It feels like a cool breeze, fresh air, the smell of flowers, blue sky…
The second movement, if we had to keep with the vernal theme, sounds maybe like a conversation you’d have with your eyes closed, empty glass of something at your side. We’re in lawn chairs, hammocks, rocking chairs, and having (or rather trying to have) an afternoon nap. Conversation is slow and lacks momentum, but eventually touches on a few sensitive points, but only momentarily. It passes, mostly; a few points are made, and we maybe doze off, but by the time we are aware again, we’re not even sure if we did.
Not to say the second movement was somber or serious, but whatever quieter, more subdued mood there may have been is quietly dusted away in a chirpy, springy, really quite funny third movement. Not even 90 seconds long, it’s like our two characters playing a game of hopscotch, or chasing each other through the forest, peek-a-booing around trees, a game of Marco Polo.
The finale is a wonderful walk home, as it were. It’s not as expansive as the first movement, and aside from a few of the final flourishes in the coda, this movement has the coloring and tone of, say, a sunset. The opening gesture isn’t flashy or aggressive or ambitious, but just elegantly, remarkably beautiful. It finishes out our journey quite well, a sonata-rondo form that covers lots of ground. You could read a thesis like this one by Eimear Heeney for all kinds of nitty gritty info about how the movement is constructed, the refrains and couplets, or you could just enjoy the scenery. It’s gorgeous.
Of this work, Heeney says:
It is in Op. 24 that the further development of the abilities and potential of the violin are fully evident, in addition to the overall structure of this sonata being far more well-balanced then [sic] Op. 23…
Notably, we’re five violin sonatas into Beethoven’s ten, that is to say halfway through, and we’re still only at opus 24. We have only op. 30 (three sonatas), 47, and 96 left. There’s really only one late Beethoven violin sonata, and really only one middle sonata. Eight of his ten are really very solidly in the early part of his career. As we have seen, though, they are truly delightful works, and I’m very glad indeed that we have them. Aren’t you?
Well, for better or worse, this is the last of Beethoven we’ll see for a while (actually only about six or seven weeks). We have a very small little interim week of some cool stuff I was excited to write and am excited to share, and then we have a big series on the way, our first of a certain kind this year, so do stay tuned for that and thank you so very much for reading.