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Steven Honigberg - The Music


Beethoven
Complete Works for Cello and Piano

Sonatas and Variations
JDT 3081

Honigberg Duo, Beethoven The Sonatas

The Op. 5 sonatas - the F major No. 1 and the G minor No. 2 - both dispense with the customary slow middle movement and the usual Scherzo or Minuet. In these works Beethoven adopts a two-movement format. His earlier chamber works, the Op. 1 set of three piano trios, and the three Op. 2 piano sonatas, were cast in four movements. A fairly long, slow Adagio introduction opens the first sonata with the instruments playing in unison. This leads without pause into the Allegro, which is in full-scale, sonata-allegro form. In the Op. 5, No. 1, a cadenza-like passage on the piano links the Adagio to the body of the Allegro, in which the instruments reach full partnership in an exquisite musical dialogue. The thematic material in the Allegro is initially stated by the piano.

The brightness and sparkle of the No. 1 contrasts the brooding and somber mood of the No. 2, which has a peculiarly expressive quality. Beethoven uses chords and dotted rhythms here, and this material is developed throughout the introduction. The Rondo: Allegro gives early indications of what the master would produce in the years ahead.

Many regard the third sonata, Sonata in A Major, Op. 69, as the jewel in Beethoven's output for the cello. Written in 1808/09 (though there are sketches that date back to 1807), the work falls in the period that included the fifth and sixth symphonies, and was offered by Beethoven to Breitkopf and Härtel for publication along with the symphonies and the Mass Op. 86. It is dedicated to Baron Ignaz von Gleichenstein, an amateur cellist and councillor, and was published in 1809.

The letters exchanged between Beethoven and the Baron in June and July of 1808 indicate that the composer had the Baron handling his contractual affairs. Their friendship was apparently developing pleasantly. In his letter to the Baron of March 18, 1809, we read, "...Now you can help me hunt for a wife... a beautiful one that yields a sigh to my harmonies..." It was the Baron who introduced Beethoven to the Malfatti family. Therese Malfatti became the subject of the composer's attentlon.

In Beethoven's letter to the publishers of July 26, 1809, he draws their attention to "printer's errors in the sonata for pianoforte with obbligato violoncello," and includes the list. Listening to this sonata it is obvious that Beethoven's feeling for the cello had matured in the 13 years that separate the Op. 5 and the Op. 69. That the Baron played the work in a private performance is likely. The first public performance however, was given by cellist Josef Linke, a member of the famed Schuppanzigh Quartet, with Beethoven's pupil Karl Czerny at the piano. Czerny in his turn taught Franz Liszt.

The work opens with a five-bar solo cello theme that sets out the classical mould of the work. This is restated by the piano, after a cascading phrase, in majestic octaves. The music develops an interplay of brilliance between the instruments. The second movement, Scherzo, builds upon a piquantly syncopated figure in the piano. It has a fascinating trio section. An 18-bar adagio passage is the lull before the stormy Allegro vivace, which is full of energy and amazing melodic invention.

The Sonatas Op. 102 come from Beethoven's last period, a period that contains works of immense spiritual depth. The Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung (AMZ) of November 11, 1818, writes, "These two sonatas are quite definitely among the most unusual and peculiar written for the pianoforte for a long time..."

The two sonatas, written in 1815, seven years after the Op. 69, and published in 1817, are dedicated to the Countess Marie von Erdody, but intended for Josef Linke. Since the Countess was a capable pianist, it is likely that she and Linke played the works. German musicologist Hugo Reimann has described the Op. 102, No. 1, as " a work in one movement with three changes of tempo." The opening Andante teneramente is freely constructed and following trills and a graceful, arpeggiated passage, leads to the Allegro vivace. The second is a rhapsodic Adagio, which, after a brief recall of the opening Andante, leads off to a rollicking rondo, with open fifths on the cello.

The Sonata Op. 102, No. 2, begins wlth an Allegro con brio, with the piano setting the mood of exuberant gaiety. Here the cello has a string of interval leaps. The mood of the Adagio is intensely expressive. A short allegro passage brings us to the finale proper - Allegro fugato. The complexity of the writing points to Beethoven's musical maturity at handling the four-part fugue, a skill that would reach a musical highpoint in the Grosse Fuge.


The Variations

Three sets of variations on themes of other composers-two on themes from Mozart's Die Zauberflote (The Magic Flute) and one on a theme from Handel's Judas Maccabaeus - complete the body of Beethoven's music for the cello. The variation form attracted Beethoven greatly, and he left no fewer than 27 sets of variations, several based on original themes. His greatest work in the variation form is the Op. 120 set of 33 variations for piano on a waltz by Anton Diabelli. Apart from these variations, there are variation movements in works such as the finale of the 'Eroica' symphony, the Andante of the Quartet Op. 18, No. 5, and the finale of the Op. 74 Quartet.

It is thought that the suggestion to use a theme from Handel may have come from Baron van Swieten. Composed in 1796, this could be Beethoven's act of homage to Handel, a composer he greatly admired. By choosing the theme - "Hail, the Conquering Hero," Beethoven also managed a subtle glorification of King Friedrich Wilhelm II, when performing it at his Berlin Palace. Published in 1797, the Princess Lichnowski is the dedicatee. The very statement of the thematic material is cleverly distributed between the two instruments, and the twelve variations are full of elegance and majesty.

Mozart's Die Zauberflöte was one of Vienna's really big operatic events. Emanuel Schikaneder was producer, librettist and a member of the original 1791 cast. Then, as impresario, Schikaneder announced the 300th performance on January 1, 1798 (music historians doubt the number). The seven variations on "Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen," the Act I duet between Papageno and Pamina, were written perhaps at the request of Schikaneder, so he could use the piece in his publicity campaign. They are dedicated to a Count von Browne. The seven variations develop in musical intensity as the work progresses. The fifth, a scherzo, is particularly interesting. A contemporary reviewer wrote, "Anybody wanting to perform these cello parts must be a consummate master of his instrument.''

The twelve variations on Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen, Papageno's aria from Act 11, oddly enough bears the opus number 66, despite having been written in 1801 at the time of a new production of Die Zauberflöte. The first edition of these variations had no opus number. They later appeared again just before the fifth and sixth symphonies; hence the Op. 66.

For Beethoven, composing in the variation form was often no more than improvisation. In these three sets of variations for cello and piano, Beethoven digs into the melodic genius of his predecessors Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Georg Friedrich Handel and adds his own mastery.


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Erich Volfgang Korngold
Piano Quintet, Opus 15
Suite, Opus 23
JDT 3083

Steven Honigberg, KorngoldErich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957) was one of the most gifted prodigies in musical history. Admired by Mahler, Strauss and Puccini, and virtually every other great musician of the early part of this century, he grew up as a feted wunderkind in the rich milieu of the final years of Imperial Vienna, before becoming a major operatic and symphonic composer. Because he was Jewish, the rise of Nazism resulted in his eventual exile to Los Angeles, where he became a pioneer of film scoring, winning two Academy Awards. A postwar return to Europe was unsuccessful, and he died in Hollywood aged only 60, believing himself forgotten.

Korngold is most closely associated with large-scale works - operas and film scores in particular - but throughout his career, he produced equally fine works on a smaller scale. Three piano sonatas, a number of piano miniatures, songs and chamber works for various groups make up this section of his output. Each bears hallmarks of his own individual style, bursting with original harmonic thinking and a fund of melody.

In the 1920s, Korngold was the most performed operatic composer in German-speaking countries after Richard Strauss. His greatest operatic success was Die tote Stadt, which he completed in August 1920. The Piano Quintet in E major, Opus 15, was composed a year later, and its heroic, effusively romantic melodic style owes much to the atmosphere of this legendary opera. The Quintet is dedicated to the deaf-mute sculptor Gustinus Ambrosi (a close friend) and is an elaborate work.

Conceived in three complex movements, the Piano Quintet teems with ideas. It opens in the tonic key of E major with Korngoldian expansiveness - bold, upward-leaping and intensely romantic - contrasted with a second subject of great beauty and simplicity. Korngold's development is masterly and the difficult string writing is complemented by the virtuoso piano part. Korngold performed the piano part at the world premiere of the Quintet in Hamburg on February 16, 1923, and in Vienna a month later.

In the tradition of his illustrious predecessors Schubert, Beethoven, Brahms and especially Mahler, Korngold often drew inspiration from his own songs for other compositions. In the case of the Piano Quintet and the later Suite Opus 23, which were composed contemporaneously feature importantly.


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