Official release: 16 April 2021
This second volume of the complete recording of Beethoven’s Sonatas for violin and piano offers to its listeners two of the most famous and celebrated works of the entire violin literature, and one which would deserve a similar fate but has been comparatively neglected.
Beethoven completed ten Sonatas for violin and piano, several of which proceed in pairs (as happens with several of his Symphonies and of his Piano Sonatas). This is obviously the case with the two Sonatas op. 30, but also, perhaps less predictably, with the Sonatas op. 23 and op. 24. Indeed, these two works had been conceived as a diptych, and the Sonata currently known as op. 24 should have appeared in print as op. 23 no. 2. Seemingly, the choice to attribute a separate opus number to op. 24 was mainly due to technical reasons (a different layout). Certainly, however, the two works are very complementary, and balance each other superbly.
Beethoven wrote both Sonatas in 1800-1, and both were dedicated to Count Moritz von Fries, one of the young musician’s aristocratic patrons.
Their publication caused a sensation, and even the notoriously harsh critics of the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung were enthused: these works were “the best among those composed by Beethoven, i.e. the best ever written”. This evaluation was in open contrast with that of the set published as op. 12, whose technical complexity and musical innovations were disconcerting and puzzling in the eyes of the Viennese audience. In particular, their features discouraged the amateur musicians who constituted the core of the buyers, performers and disseminators of the chamber music repertoire. Of course, the two Sonatas of 1800-1 are far beyond the level of an average amateur musician; they display an impressive variety of musical situations, feelings, characters, and of technical solutions. When called to play, Beethoven was primarily a pianist; however, he was also a skilled violinist, and he was constantly in quest of new possibilities, offered by the technical advances in violin playing and by those involving both the mechanics and the technique of the piano. Indeed, if Beethoven’s Sonatas for solo piano constitute a kind of personal, spiritual and artistic journal, tracing the stages of his human, artistic and creative itinerary, his Violin Sonatas represent the dramatization of such an itinerary. The compresence of two very different instruments, each endowed with an impressive virtuoso potential and a marked personality, represented a valuable expressive resource for Beethoven, whose works frequently involve a pronounced dialectical component. Along with the usual opposition, struggle and pacification of the themes in the Sonata form, the two instruments constitute another opportunity for enriching the works’ dramatic element.
Sonata op. 23 is in the rather unusual key of A minor. Its opening movement features a somewhat atypical Sonata form, which, in combination with the similarly infrequent tempo indication (Presto) and time signature (6/8) confers to this movement an allure reminiscent of a Gigue. Its galloping pace and its unquiet character mark this movement as a breathtaking instance of Beethoven’s purposefully “wild” style.
By way of contrast, the second movement looks forward rather than backwards; here, today’s listeners are frequently reminded of Romantic music, and in particular of Schumann’s atmospheres. This feeling is probably caused by Beethoven’s choice of uncommon rhythmical traits, by the willed and troubling use of short fragments instead of longer thematic elements, and by the intense (but never self-conscious) use of contrapuntal elements with allusions to fugal structures.
A kind of mysterious magic is also found in the third movement, whose refrain constitutes almost a reprise of ideas already heard in the initial Presto. The various couplets intertwine with each other notwithstanding the extreme variety of musical situations; one of the most memorable is reminiscent of a chorale writing, and therefore suggests a possibly religious interpretation of the transcendent element inspiring this movement. The “savage and harsh” atmosphere of this Sonata was remarked by the critics, but its musical features were casting a bridge towards a “concertante” concept of the piano and violin duo, which was going to emerge in Beethoven’s following works.
A very intense dialogue among the instruments is certainly found in the fifth Sonata, op. 24. The title “Spring”, by which it is still commonly known, is (as happened with many other works by Beethoven) a spurious addition by a publisher. However, as indeed in many other cases, the title does say something (and something meaningful) about the piece, whose undeniable fascination blossoms from its unbelievable serenity and radiosity. These are found especially in the two outer movements of this Sonata, which, within Beethoven’s corpus of Violin Sonatas, is the first to be structured in four movements. The first theme of the first movement is a miracle of grace, elegance and beauty, and it is characterized by gruppetto-like figurations with a pronounced vocal style. Singing seems to inspire also the main theme of the final Rondeau (indeed, this beautiful tune is found also in an Aria, Non più di fior vaghe catene, from Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito), although passages with an exquisitely instrumental character are also frequently found (for example the broken octaves proposed in alternation by the two instruments). A buffo inspiration can also be discerned in some staccato passages, particularly in those with repeated notes; and a decidedly comical vein emerges in the Scherzo. Here, Beethoven seems to suggest that the two musicians have lost each other and are desperately attempting to regain some kind of ensemble playing; Schumann cited this Scherzo, albeit in a modified form, in one of the delightful pieces of his Album für die Jugend.
At the heart of this Sonata, the slow movement is a stupendous song without words; the two instruments gracefully offer an enchanted theme to each other, embellishing it in turn with ornamentation derived from the operatic tradition.
In this as in other moments of the “Spring” Sonata, a total equality between the two chamber music partners has been achieved; their discourse is serene and balanced, even in the stormy or rash passages. The possibility of pitting the two musicians against each other – only to present their eventual pacification as the embodiment of a reconciled humankind – is splendidly explored by Beethoven in his magnificent Sonata op. 47. In this case, too, the Sonata is usually referred to as the “Kreutzer Sonata”; this name derives from the official dedicatee of the work, violinist Rudolf Kreutzer, who, however, never performed it in public. Actually, the work had been premiered publicly, with Beethoven at the piano, and with a legendary violinist, George Bridgetower, playing virtually at sight from an almost sketchy score. Bridgetower was the son of an African man and of a German (or Polish) mother; a child prodigy, he had conquered the appreciation of the British royalty and had become the first solo violinist of the Prince of Wales. In 1802, he obtained leave to visit his mother on the Continent, and, during his stay in Vienna, he met Beethoven. In all likelihood, the composer was inspired by the fiery, capricious and “mad” (Beethoven’s word) character of the virtuoso violinist, for whom he created this absolute masterpiece. Certainly, Bridgetower seemed to appreciate and understand this very unusual work much more than Kreutzer would later do. Around 1830, in fact, Kreutzer reportedly defined “his” Sonata as “outrageously unintelligible”. Indeed, this Sonata is unlike any other preceding it. It has a “concertante” style, as Beethoven himself wrote, implying that both instruments attempt to impose their personality and virtuosity in a dazzling display of brilliancy and grandiosity. This does not prevent this magnificent Sonata from including touching and intense moments of expression and intimacy, particularly in the Theme with Variations. Here, however, what should have been an oasis of peace in the midst of a deluge of notes actually becomes part of it; some of the Variations overcome the boundaries of what violin virtuosity and technique used to be at Beethoven’s time, and anticipate the challenges of Romantic technique. Curiously, the Finale of this Sonata had initially been designed for an earlier Sonata, i.e. op. 30 no. 1; patently, the piece did not belong in the emotional and aesthetic sphere of the preceding work, while it perfectly suits the first movements of the “Kreutzer” Sonata.
Within this album, therefore, we can observe the development of Beethoven’s compositional style, of his personality, of his musical traits, but also the inexhaustible fantasy and creativity of a musician who unceasingly explored all the possibilities of the instruments and forms he was experimenting with, thus enriching the musical repertoire with a series of gems of an absolute splendour.
Album note by Chiara Bertoglio
Stefano Ligoratti: Stefano Ligoratti (Milan 1986) studied at the “G. Verdi” Conservatory of Milan. His Academic course was characterized by a certain musical versatility that led him to obtain many degrees. He graduated in Piano, Organ, Harpsichord, Orchestral Conducting and Composition. He won several prizes in national and international competitions, including the prestigious European Piano Competition "Mario Fiorentini" of La Spezia (Italy, January 2010), where he won the first prize, the audience award and the prize for the youngest pianist. He is Artistic Director of the music network "ClassicaViva", and he performs with the homonymous orchestra, which he founded in 2005, often in the dual role of pianist and Conductor. Recently he is involved in musical dissemination, strongly believing that the historical period in which we live needs a wide operation of musical literacy. In this regard, in January 2019, together with the pianist and musicologist Luca Ciammarughi, he began a season of eight Concert Lessons (still in progress) at the Palazzina Liberty in Milan, under the name of "Non capisco! ... Son profano!”, Offering the public an historical and analytical verbal explanation of the various musical forms. As a pianist he recorded CD’s for the labels: "ClassicaViva" ("Variations ... and beyond", published in 2007; "Fantasies", published in 2009; in duo with the russian violinist Yulia Berinskaya: "Violin in Blue" published in 2010 and "Violin in White" published in 2012); "Limen" ("Sturm und Drang" published in 2018); “Da Vinci” (“F. Schubert: Works for Piano 4 hands” in duo with Luca Ciammarughi published in 2017), (“The voice of Violin” in the role of Conductor of “I musici di Parma Orchestra” and Yulia Berinskaya as a Violin Soloist), (Beethoven: Complete Works for Cello and Piano” Published in 2019 in duo with Matilda Colliard as Cellist). Also He is finalizing the recording of complete works for Cello and Piano by G. Goltermann (for “Brilliant Classics” label) with the cellist Cosimo Carovani.
Yulia Berinskaya: Yulia was born into an artistic and musical environment; her precocious talent was discovered at an early age by her father Sergey Berinsky, among the greatest composers of the 20th century in Moscow, and he encouraged her to study violin. Her training and her extraordinary musical potential were encouraged and cultivated by internationally renowned artists such as E. Tchugaeva and V. Tretiakov, the Borodin Quartet, the Moscow Trio, who guided Yulia to graduate with honours from the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory. She then continued her studies at the Hochschule für Musik in Wien under the tuition of D. Schwarzberg. Afterwards, Yulia began to a brilliant career as a soloist, chamber musician and teacher, acclaimed in Italy and abroad: Netherlands, Switzerland, France, Germany, the former Yugoslavia, USA, Israel and Russia. Her recitals represent her quality as a versatile artist, and her virtuosity accompanies many diverse styles. She has had prestigious collaborations with several orchestras: Verdi Orchestra in Milan, Milan Conservatory Orchestra, Moscow Amadeus Orchestra, Sverdlovsk Philharmonic Orchestra and I Musici di Parma ensemble. Being a passionate chamber musician, she has been invited to some of the major Italian and European festivals, performing alongside artists including S. Krilov, Y. Bashmet, D. Cohen, V. Mendelssohn, F. Lips. Yulia regularly gives masterclasses in Mendrisio (Switzerland), Timisoara (Romania), Rhodes (Greece), Mulin de Andee (France), Portogruaro (Italy), Venice (Italy); also she has founded her own violin course at the Milano Music Masterschool academy and is regularly a jury member in international violin competition. Yulia has performed as a guest leader with the following orchestras: Teatro San Carlo in Naples, Orchestra of Trento and Bolzano, Orchestra Earl (Austria), Teatro La Fenice in Venice, The Philharmonic Orchestra of Liubljana. She records for the labels: Koch Records (Germany) and Gramsapis ArtClassic (Russia), Sonart Studio, Playing News, LimenMusic (Italy), Da Vinci (Japan). Her recordings are regularly broadcasted by Radio Vaticana, Radio Classica, Radio della Svizzera Italiana.
Ludwig van Beethoven: (b Bonn, bap. 17 Dec 1770; d Vienna, 26 March 1827). German composer. His early achievements, as composer and performer, show him to be extending the Viennese Classical tradition that he had inherited from Mozart and Haydn. As personal affliction – deafness, and the inability to enter into happy personal relationships – loomed larger, he began to compose in an increasingly individual musical style, and at the end of his life he wrote his most sublime and profound works. From his success at combining tradition and exploration and personal expression, he came to be regarded as the dominant musical figure of the 19th century, and scarcely any significant composer since his time has escaped his influence or failed to acknowledge it. For the respect his works have commanded of musicians, and the popularity they have enjoyed among wider audiences, he is probably the most admired composer in the history of Western music.