Formerly Houston
Harpsichord Society

Smithsonian Castle Trio

 

Smithsonian Castle Trio

"The Face of Beethoven"

Friday, Sept. 18, 1998, 8:00 p.m., St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, 3471 Westheimer

A classic! Beethoven the radical, the innovator, the genius...the man is revealed through performances on original instruments and through anecdotes delivered by Dr. Carl Cunningham, esteemed music critic and writer

Slide Lecture - "Beethovenism"

7:00 p.m., Rotunda Theater, Dr. Mary Morton, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Cosponsored by The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Beethoven cast a long shadow over history. He was a wildly popular composer in the 19th century offering an exciting new listening experience, and, for some artists, a radical new esthetic. Find out how Beethoven influenced some of the great painters of the mid-century. Lecture attendees will receive a pass to The Museum of Fine Arts.

 

Smithsonian Castle Trio

Program

Friday, Sept. 18, 1998

"The Face of Beethoven"

with Dr. Carl Cunningham, Narrator

 

Dr. Carl Cunningham

Trio for Violin, Cello, and Fortepiano in E Flat Major Ludwig van Beethoven

Op. 1, #1 1770-1827

Sonata for Piano and Cello in G minor

Op. 5

Intermission

 

Dr. Carl Cunningham

Trio for Violin, Cello, and Fortepiano in G Major

Op. 1, #2

 

The Smisthsonian Castle Trio appears through an exclusive arrangement with Joanne Rile Artists Management, 801 Old York Road, Noble Plaza, Suite 212, Jenkintown, PA 19046


Early Conversations Lecture Series

The "Early Conversations" lecture for this evening is cosponsored by The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and features Dr. Mary Morton who is Assistant Curator of European Art. She received her doctorate in art from Brown University in 1998 specializing in 19th century European art. The lecture "Beethovenism" will acquaint you with the influence Beethoven had on other artistic disciplines. He was a wildly popular composer in the 19th century and offered an exciting new listening experience; for some artists, he also offered a radical new esthetic which was interpreted in the paintings that they produced. In this lecture, you will find out how he influenced some of the great painters of the mid-century. In addition, lecture attendees will receive a pass to the Museum of Fine Arts.


 

Notes -

Dear Beethoven! Your are going to Vienna in fulfillment of your long frustrated wishes. The Genius of Mozart is mourning and weeping over the death of her pupil. She found a refuge but no occupation with the inexhaustible Haydn; through him she wishes to form a union with another. With the help of assiduous labour you shall receive Mozart’s spirit from Haydn’s hand.

Early in November of 1792 the twenty-two-year-old Ludwig van Beethoven set out from his native Bonn, taking with him an autograph album given him by his friends in which the above prophetic inscription was entered by his protector Count Waldstein. Within a short time of his arrival in the Austrian capital, Beethoven began to meet Haydn fairly regularly. These lessons included not only preliminary exercises in counterpoint, but also revision of some of his youthful Bonn-period compositions, and seems to have taken place in a generally convivial atmosphere, as evinced b various entries in Beethoven’s expense ledger, among them these two from October 1793: "‘22 x chocolate for Haidn and me’ and ‘Coffee, 6 x for Haidn and me.’" By the time of Haydn’s death in 1809, however, Waldstein’s prediction had proven more Panglossian than accurate. Cognoscenti were hardly surprised as, even from Beethoven’s first entry into Viennese salon life where his improvisations ravished his listeners, it was apparent that the young composer’s creative spirit belonged to no one but himself.

Nonetheless, Haydn’s instruction of the "Grand Mogul" (as he affectionately called his pupil) continued until January 1794 when Haydn left Vienna for his second and final triumphal voyage to England, from which he would return beyond doubt the most universally celebrated composer of all time. Though others of his students (among them Pleyel, Kraft, and Wranitzky) were proud, or at least willing, to place "Pupil of Haydn" on their title-pages, Beethoven never made this obeisance. While he did dedicate the three piano sonatas of his opus 2 to the elder master, he also told his own pupil Ferdinand Ries that "although he had had some instruction from Haydn, he had never learned anything from him." Indeed, Beethoven had found it necessary to supplement his counterpoint lessons with Haydn by also seeking help from Johann Georg Albrechtsberger. He worked, too, with Antonio Salieri to gain familiarity with the Italian vocal style. Ries, who was on good terms with all three of Beethoven’s teachers, wrote that "all appreciated Beethoven highly but were of one opinion concerning his studies: each said that Beethoven was so headstrong and stubborn that he had to learn for himself through bitter experience much of what he had rejected in his formal lessons."

It is to Ries that we owe a famous story concerning Haydn, Beethoven, and the three piano trios Beethoven had published as his opus 1 in 1795. "It was planned to introduce the first three Trios of Beethoven…to the artistic world at a soiree at Prince Lichnowsky’s" (Beethoven’s patron and the trios’ dedicatee), wrote Ries in his important 1838 Biographische Notizen uber Ludwig van Beethoven.

Most of the artists and music-lovers were invited, especially Haydn, for whose opinion all were eager. The Trios were played and at once commanded extraordinary attention. Haydn also said many pretty things about them, but advised Beethoven not to publish the third, in C minor. The astonished Beethoven, inasmuch as he considered the third the best of the Trios, as it is still the one which gives the most pleasure and makes the greatest effect. Consequently, Haydn’s remark left a bad impression on Beethoven and led him to think that Haydn was envious, jealous and ill-disposed toward him. I confess that when Beethoven told me of this I gave it little credence. I therefore took occasion to ask Haydn himself about it. His answer, however, confirmed Beethoven’s statement;

he said that he had not believed that this Trio would be so quickly and easily understood and so favorably received by the public.

Taken together, Haydn’s initial reaction to and Ries’ hindsight-blessed assessment of the three trios form one of the best and most succinct critiques of these pieces, selected by their author to launch his official compositional career. While the first two, heard in this evening’s program, speak the refined classical language as perfect by Mozart and Haydn, the third, in its nearly overwrought emotional intensity, gives us a first glimpse of the stormy Beethoven of other disturbing C minor works such as the "Pathethique" sonata and the Fifth Symphony.

In their printed versions, the trios won quick acceptance, and remained popular long after many similar works by other composers had ceased to please. Their post-publication history is charmingly encapsulated in an Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung review of 1829:

When a new and well-done edition of universally known, esteemed, and beloved works appears, nothing really needs to be said except ‘Here they are.’ Nonetheless, if superfluity be allowed, a few further comments might be in order. We may rejoice that a new edition of these works [the op. 1 trios] had in fact become necessary despite the appearance of so many earlier editions. And necessary it was. Proof that its experienced publisher knew what he was doing in reprinting these works may be found in two examples of earlier prints in the possession of this writer. The plates used in preparing these earlier editions had become so worn through repeated use that they hardly imparted the most essential information, leaving one to rely half on guesswork for many details.

How often and in what tremendous numbers must enthusiasts have found beauty, joy and delight in these trios in the thirty-odd years since they first saw the light of day! …The pieces themselves give treat enjoyment (it goes almost without saying) because of their content and worth in general; but also, and more particularly, because in these works, as in few others, the happy youth of the master—as yet untroubled, easy-going and carefree—is mirrored. From time to time, however, the deep seriousness and delicate intimacy of their composer’s later years already make themselves known in a most affecting fashion.

Notwithstanding the fact that one must recognize the models offered by Mozart’s piano quartets, Beethoven’s peculiarity and independence shine unmistakably through his trios, scattering flares of electrifying sparks. May many share with us these last-named joys!

Our program also includes the Sonata in G minor, op. 5, no. 2, a work which easily rivals the C minor trio in passion and dynamism. Its genesis, two, is indebted to Beethoven’s pianistic prowess.

By February of 1796, with several publications to his credit, Beethoven felt sufficiently sure of himself to leave Vienna for a five-month concert tour which took him to Prague (in the company of Prince Lichnowsky, who had trailed there with Mozart some seven years earlier), Dresden, Leipzig, and Berlin, where he was inspired by the high level and quality of musical activity at the court of King Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia.

This monarch had inherited his passion for music from his uncle, Frederick the Great (reigned 1740-1786), whose musical establishment, maintained at full intensity until the outbreak of the Seven Years War in 1856, and included such luminaries as Carl Heinrich and Johann Gottlieb Graun, Franz and Johann Benda, Christoph Schaffrath, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, and Johann Joachim Quantz. Frederick’s accomplishments as a flutist and composer had gained him the respect of many professional musicians. His nephew’s talents were applied to the violoncello, which was just coming into its own as a solo instrument during the middle years of the eighteenth century.

In 1787, shortly after Friedrich Wilhelm’s ascension to the throne, Haydn published his six quartets of P. 50 with a dedication to the new Prussian monarch. Mozart, in a letter written two years later, set forth his intention to produce a similar half-dozen works, of which only three, known today as the Prussian Quartets, were completed. Their difficult cello parts testify to the king’s technical accomplishments, but Friedrich Wilhelm was by no means the only cellist at the Potsdam court capable of their execution. Frederick the Great had engaged Jean-Pierre Duport, Berteau’s most gifted student, in 1773 as first cellist of the Royal Opera, chamber musician of the Royal Chapel, and instructor for the prince.

The elder Duport’s playing was rivaled, or even surpassed, by that of his brother Jean-Louis, some eight years his junior.

The sweetness and beauty of the tone he caused to issue from his instrument is said to have surprised Voltaire, who allegedly quipped, "Monsieur Duport, you will make me believe in miracles, for I see that you can turn an ox into a nightingale." On the eve of the 1789 Revolution, Duport, sensing the coming debacle which would effectively destroy Parisian concert life for several years, fled the city to join his brother in Berlin.

Thus, when Beethoven arrived in Potsdam, he found a virtual hotbed of cellistic activity. The Biographische Notizen uber Ludwig van Beethoven, compiled in 1838 by the composer’s friend from Bonn, Franz Gerhard Wegeler, and student from Vienna, Ferdinand Ries, includes the following vignette:

Beethoven played several times at the court of King Friedrich Wilhelm II, where he played the two grand sonatas with obbligato violoncello, Op. 5 which he had composed for Duport, first violoncellist of the King, and himself. On his departure he received a gold snuff-box filled with louis d’ors [gold coins]. Beethoven told me wit pride that it was no ordinary snuffbox, but one of the kind which are presented to ambassadors.

The two sonatas Beethoven and Duport played were published in Vienna by Artaria in 1797. This pair of complementary works occupies a unique position in music history, being the first true duo, or obbligato, sonatas (in which the two participants share equally in the working-out of melodic material) for keyboard and cello. (Curiously, the original title page for the sonatas proclaims their instrumentation as harpsichord or fortepiano with violoncello obbligato—surely a merely commercial concession to the lingering popularity of the harpsichord, since the dynamic markings clearly indicate that Beethoven composed the work with the fortepiano in mind.)

Though their structures are similar, the two pieces inhabit completely different affective realms, as one might presuppose from their keys. The cheery brightness of the F. Major sonata’s first movement presents a clear contrast to the nearly belligerent brooding of the G minor work’s opening. The cellistic effects of the C Major rondo are altogether different from those used in the F Major sonata. Taken together, the two sonatas examine nearly every facet of the new-found jewel their instrumental combination offers, presenting a compositional and technical tour de force in every way as fiery as that produced in performance by their original executants.

 


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