Sonata no. 9 in A Major opus 47 “Kreutzer” (for violin and piano)

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Of Beethoven’s ten sonates for piano and violin, only one is known mainly by an name rather that an opus number, the “Kreutzer” sonata. By the fortunate-coincidence of its musical exellence and the association of a personal  name it stands far above the other nine in popularity. Yet the name explains, no more about the music than this sonata explains the content of Tolstoy’s novel “The Kreutzer Sonata.” In both instances the name is window-dressing. This sonata was written for the violin virtuoso George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower, who performed it at an 8 a.m. recital in Vienna in May, 1803, with Beethoven at the piano. Unfortunately, the music was far from ready by the appointed date, especially  the piano part, which was only sketched in here and there, and Bridgetower had to play the famous Variations in the second movement from Beethoven’s notoriously illegible manuscript; there was no time to copy out a part.

However, in the interval between composition and publication, Beethoven and Bridgetower had a parting of the ways, and the composer decided to dedicate the work to Rudolphe Kreutzer. Beethoven had met this outstanding French virtuoso, composer, and violin pedagogue during the latter’s visit to Vienna in 1802 and praised his “Unaffectedness and natural manner,” finding him more to his taste than most virtuosi. Kreutzer, whose fame, aside from Beethoven’s dedication, rests today mainly on his 40 violin etudes, the daily bread of every well-intentioned violinist, found this sonata “outrageously unintelligible,” according to Berlioz, and never played it.

From the vantage point of 150 years, the sonata appears to us particularly clear us structure and readily intelligible. Written during the same years as the third, or “Eroica”, symphony, while Beethoven was breaking away from the classic structures of the eighteenth century, the composer’s lack of musical orthodoxy may have been startling, to his contemporaries. Yet the struggle for form, so evident in Beethoven’s later works, is here in evidence only to a minor extent.

The sonata as a musical form had its origin about the year 1600, when it was used to designate an instrumental piece in contrast to vocal music. In the course of the next two centuries it was first applied to works for violin alone, and piano alone, and it was Johann Sebastian Bach who wrote the first sonatas for piano and violin, characterized by the presence of two significant themes in the opening movement.

Up to Mozart’s time the violin and piano duets were mainly considered to be vehicles for keyboard instruments, with a violin accompaniment. A check of authentic editions of the “violin” sonates of major 18th and 19th century composers, such as Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Mendelssohn, and Schumann, reveals that they all referred to these works as “Sonatas for piano and violin,” thus stressing the role of the piano.

With the virtuoso system now prevalent, however we take it for granted that a violinist will perform such sonatas, and bring along his “accompanist,” while we could be amazed if a piano soloist were to bring along a violin “accompanist.” This change is due partially to the type of sonatas Beethoven wrote. The violin parts of these works, especially of the “Kreutzer” sonata, are so much more difficult that they presuppose the virtuoso to the exclusion of the amateur chamber musician, so that the accent shifted to the string instrument.

I

The work opens with the violin presenting the theme of the adagio sostenuto introduction in A major, echoed by the piano. The body of this movement, marked Presto, brings us the main theme in A minor, interrupted by many retards and holds. The recapitulation is followed by a dramatic slow episode, ending in a stormy minor.

II

The F major andante movement begins with an exemplary simple theme, which then undergoes four variations which test the skill of any virtuoso while at the same time allowing him to display his talents.

III 

The finale is a galloping presto, returning to the key signature of the introduction. It’s material bears striking resemblance to a Tarantella. It had been written the year before for the sonata op. 30, number 1, but no one will doubt it’s appropriateness as used in its present place.

Beethoven inscribed the work  as “Sonata per il pianoforte ed un Violino obbligato in uno stilo molto concertante quasi come d’ un Concerto,” thus indicating that he intended it to be almost what Schumann later called a “Concerto without orchestra.” Not one, but two virtuosi are needed for it’s performance; the piano part maintains it’s independent importance throughout.

Note by: Alfred R. Neumann

Bron: MMS-18 Lp – Musical Masterpiece Society inc.

 

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