Tablet - Portrait

Tablet - Landscape


Ludwig van Beethoven

Between May and July of 1796 Beethoven was in Berlin as part of a concert tour, traveling, as Mozart had done in 1789, with Prince Lichnowsky. While there, he began a number of important works, including the two cello sonatas of Op. 5 and the Variations for Cello and Piano in G major on "See the conqu'ring hero comes" from Handel's oratorio, Judas Maccabaeus, WoO 45. The Op. 5 cello sonatas are dedicated to Friedrich Wilhelm II, King of Prussia, a capable amateur cellist. Beethoven occasionally sought to dedicate works to influential people in the hopes of obtaining a reward. In the case of the Op. 5 sonatas, Beethoven received a gold snuff box filled with louis d'or -- French 20-franc gold pieces.

The first cellist of the Court Orchestra (and Wilhelm II's teacher) was Jean-Pierre Duport (1741-1818), for whom Beethoven composed the two Op. 5 cello sonatas. The premiere of the two sonatas was given in Berlin in May or June of 1796 and it is possible that Beethoven performed the works not with Jean-Pierre Duport, but with Duport's younger brother, Jean-Louis. Certainly, the style and ability of these two cellists influenced Beethoven's compositions. In fact, a few aspects of the cello writing in the Op. 5 sonatas appear in a tutor for the instrument later published by Jean-Louis Duport. The two sonatas of Op. 5 were printed in February 1797 by Artaria & Co. in Vienna. Both are in two movements with a slow introduction to the first movement and a rondo-form finale.

Beethoven's composition of sonatas for cello and piano was unprecedented; he had no models in the works of Haydn or Mozart. Only recently had the instrument begun to liberate itself from its role in the traditional basso continuo. Beethoven was the first to completely write out the keyboard parts for large-scale cello and keyboard works. Although he composed variations for cello and piano -- Op. 66, WoO. 45, and WoO. 46 -- Beethoven would not write another sonata for the combination until 1807, when he began the Cello Sonata, Op. 69. The sonatas of Op. 5 are remarkable in the density of their material as well as Beethoven's increasing ability to relate more distant keys to the tonic. In these aspects, the two sonatas have no parallel in their time.

Each of the two sonatas of Op. 5 features a slow introduction in the manner of Haydn's symphonies; that for No. 2 opens in G minor, the key of the piece, but moves astray into flat harmonies. The main theme of the Allegro is brief in comparison to that of the first movement of Op. 5, No.2, and sounds once in each instrument before being subjected to motivic transformation in the transition to the second theme area. On the relative major (B flat), the second theme has a shape exactly the opposite of the first. The implications of the "flat" harmonies in the introduction are realized in both the second theme area and the brief development section. As in Op. 5, No. 1, the Rondo finale proves to be a vehicle for virtuosity that must have tested the limits of even the best players of the time.