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Glimpses on Beethoven’s Sonatas
Piano Sonata op. 2 Nr. 3
While finished in 1795 and published in Vienna a year later, Beethoven’s Sonatas op. 2, Nrs. 1, 2 and 3 were certainly conceived in Bonn by the 15-year old master in 1785, who expressed the same ideas in his Quartet in C-major for piano and chords. They are dedicated to Joseph Haydn. According to Latvian musician Wilhelm von Lenz (1809–1883), the Sonatas op. 2 show that Beethoven won the first round in his rivalry with Haydn and Mozart. They were premiered by Madame Von Bernhard and coldly received by Viennese public. Later, they were totally eclipsed by Beethoven’s great Sonatas and became didactic pieces much appreciated by pedagogues. The great Ukrainian pianist Emil Guilels tried to rehabilitate the Nr. 3 in C-major and played it in Europe as well as at his New York début recital. Unfortunately, his unforgettable performance of this work was not recorded in Europe. Hermetic messages of Allegro con brio, sober beauty of Adagio, discreet joy of Scherzo allegro and mystery of its Coda and strange charm of Assai allegro are the main attributes of this early Beethoven’s work.
Piano Sonata op. 53 (Waldstein or Aurore)
Beethoven’s friend, admirer and benefactor, the count Ferdinand Ernst Gabriel von Waldstein (1762–1823), offered him in 1803 a concert grand piano produced by the famous French manufacturer Sébastien Érard (1752–1831). The composer appreciated the extended keyboard and the structural strength of his new instrument and materialized on it in 1804 the music thoughts, which haunted him before Eroica Symphony, in piano Sonatas op. 57 (Appassionata), op. 53 and op. 54. Called "Waldstein" in Austria, Germany and Anglo–Saxon countries, Sonata op. 53 in C-major is named "Aurore" in France and some other European countries. This great canticle of triumph, chanting the affirmation of life, love and happiness in heyday of glory, was neither understood, nor appreciated by pianists and musicologists before Beethoven’s death. Some German philistines were inconvenienced by repletion of scales and arpeggios. Much later, Richard Wagner dispraised its coldness. Beethoven heard just once his masterpiece op. 53 (and op. 57) performed for him by the phenomenal French pianist Marie de Morouges-Bigot (1786–1820) who lived in Vienna. This lady was able to perform "a prima vista" Sonatas Waldstein and Appassionata from Beethoven’s manuscript! Beethoven fell in love with her and wrote her: "My dear Marie, what you played for me was not my music. It was something much better." Unfortunately, Madame de Morouges-Bigot, who stunned the old Haydn too with her phenomenal artistry, never played Beethoven’s works in public! By 1857, Clara Schumann started to introduce Waldstein, Appassionata and Hammerklavier (op. 106)¹ to German and foreign public. Alas, Beethoven died thirty years earlier. In 20-ieth Century, Madame Guiomar Novaes (1896–1979) gave absolutely unrivalled performances of Waldstein Sonata. Emil Guilels (1916–1985) left a remarkable recording, as well as the Romanian piano star from London, Radu Lupu (born in 1945). They unveiled the mystery of the opening bars and four-note figure which haunts the first movement, as well as complementing contrasts of its two main ideas, hidden intimate poetry of the second movements and its hermetic staccatos and ringing climaxes of the last movement.
¹ Opus 106 was premiered by Franz Liszt in Paris in 1836, the French pianist Alexander Billet gave the first performance of «Hammerklavier» Sonata in London in 1850 and from 1853, the greatest pianist in the history of British piano, Arabella Goddard (1836–1922) performed it in London and other cities in United Kingdom, as well as in Paris, Berlin (before Clara Schumann), Leipzig, Florence etc.
Sonate à Kreutzer op. 47 in A -major
Beethoven heard in Vienna the French violinist and prolific composer Rodolphe Kreutzer (1766–1831) considered the greatest violin virtuoso in pre-Paganini era. Stunned by his virtuosity and his musicianship, Beethoven composed for him his opus 47, which includes some pages written much before Kreutzer’s concert in Vienna, sent him to Paris a hand-written copy of his work with dedication in French. Alas, Rodolphe Kreutzer refused the dedication and returned the score to Beethoven with mention "outrageously unintelligible work", which he would never play. The critic of the music magazine "Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung", terrified by Beethoven’s technical prowess in this work, denounced his "artistic terrorism"! Beethoven premiered his monumental work in Vienna on 24th of May 1804 with the Ethiopian violinist George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower (1778–1860).
Some musicographers wrote that Lev Tolstoy’s nouvelle "La Sonate à Kreutzer" was inspired by Beethoven’s masterpiece. While Tolstoy (1828–1910) gave to his nouvelle the title "La Sonate à Kreutzer", he could not be inspired by Beethoven’s work which he contemned and despised. Tolstoy’s idiotic statements concerning Beethoven’s Sonata movements (chapter XIV): horrendous "presto", banal variations and feeble "finale" give evidence of his total ignorance of the work. His irreverent analysis of Beethoven’s aesthetical principles as well as some puerile reflections formulated in the story entitled "Albert" in 1858 betoken his strange incomprehension of music, which, however, he liked since his childhood.
Sonatas op. 10 Nr 3 in D-major and op. 31 Nr. 2 in D-minor
Beethoven’s first biographer and sincere friend Anton Schindler (1795–1864) considered his Sonata op. 10 nr. 3 in D-major (1797) one of the most beautiful ones, especially its movement "largo e mesto" and its emotional intensity obtained by a huge dynamic process of enhancement. Much later, in 1823, Anton Schindler remembered the Sonata op. 10 nr. 3 and ask Beethoven to explain the meaning of its "largo e mesto". Beethoven’s answer was laconic: "Read The Tempest by Shakespeare!"
An English concert organizer before the London première of Beethoven’s Sonata op. 31 Nr. 2 in D-minor, composed in 1802, announced the first performance of the «Tempest» Sonata by Ludwig van Beethoven. This strange epithet remained in England and nowadays is often exported on the continent, while it contrasts sharply with composer’s philosophical speculations, intimate combats and intense poetry expressed in this masterpiece.
The great pianists Clara Haskil (1895–1960) and Guiomar Novaes (1896–1979) rendered with emotional depth and technical mastery Beethoven’s eruptions of romantic feelings and thoughts in his opus 31 number 2, after the emotional vacuum and heart silences in his Sonata op. 31 nr. 1 in G-major, unbecoming of his genius. According to Beethoven’s Latvian admirer and connoisseur of his works, Wilhelm von Lenz, Beethoven definitely forgot Haydn and Mozart and initiated a second phase in his creative evolution.
(Excerpts from criticisms published in Maltese newspapers The Times, The Sunday Times and The Malta Independent on Sunday by Jean-François Grancher)
The list of compostions below was derived from Robert Poliquin’s website http://www.uquebec.ca/, and is used here with his permission.
Beethoven’s birthdate was very likely 16 December. He was baptised on the 17 December (thanks Melissa Arseneau!).