With this Da Vinci Classics album, the violin and piano duo composed by Yulia Berinskaya and Stefano Ligoratti accomplishes the remarkable goal of recording the complete Sonatas by Ludwig van Beethoven.
The form of the Sonata for violin and piano duo was slowly conquering its “modern” form at Beethoven’s time; his way had been paved for him by Mozart. Indeed, both Beethoven and Mozart were accomplished players of both the piano (and in general of keyboard instruments) and the violin or viola. Mozart was probably a better violin player than Beethoven, but Beethoven himself was a professional violist.
Under Mozart’s musical leadership, the violin and piano duo had affirmed itself as a couple of peers. In the past, Baroque violin sonatas had taken the shape of violin solos with normally undemanding continuo accompaniment (of course, Bach’s Sonatas with obbligato keyboard are an obvious exception). Later, Sonatas in the style galante had instead privileged the keyboard: these works were usually conceived as pieces for amateurs. Neither part was excessively demanding, and, in several cases, the violin part could simply be omitted without too much detriment to the musical texture.
Mozart and, perhaps to a lesser degree, Haydn, had instead established the violin and piano duo as a meeting of equals. The piano’s right hand was treated as a second melodic instrument, capable of rivalling with the violin as concerns expressivity and cantabile. (Of course, even the early fortepianos could sustain their tone for a much longer time than plucked-string keyboard instruments, thus facilitating this dialogue dramatically). The piano’s left hand provided the harmonic support to the ensemble of the other two parts. But even this scheme was too narrow for the fantasy of a Mozart or a Haydn, who frequently liked to mix the cards and to assign virtuoso or cantabile parts to either hand of the piano, and, of course, to the violin.
In spite of this, Sonatas for violin and piano continued to have rather misleading titlepages for decades. They could be mystifying both as concerns the instruments needed for performance (“harpsichord or piano” was a very common designation even when the works were clearly intended for performance on the piano) and their roles (“Piano with violin accompaniment” remained a usual indication even when the “new” concept of violin and piano Sonata had been established for a long time).
Beethoven had studied the violin already in Bonn, and one of his first jobs had been at the service of the Archbishop-Elector of Cologne, where he had been appointed as a court organist and viola player. Once in Vienna, he continued his violin studies under the guidance of Wenzel Krumpholtz, who had used to be a member of the Esterházy court orchestra at Haydn’s time. Possibly, Beethoven also took lessons from legendary violinist Ignaz Schuppanzigh, and he doubtlessly achieved a high level of accomplishment as a violin player. In spite of this, during his first years in Vienna Beethoven gained recognition mainly as a keyboard player, and, when his hearing deteriorated, he gave up violin playing almost entirely.
Given his skill on both the piano keyboard and the violin, one could surmise that works for the violin and piano duo would have been written by Beethoven throughout his career. But this was far from being the case. Among his first published works, indeed, is a set of Variations on a theme by Mozart (“Se vuol ballare” from The Marriage of Figaro, ca. 1792-3); they were followed by lesser compositions, while the first triad of great violin and piano Sonatas was published in 1799 and written during the preceding two years. These promising beginnings, however, would not be followed by an equally constant interest in this genre in Beethoven’s entire lifetime. Most of his ten Sonatas were written between 1797 and 1803; only the last one, op. 96, would follow in 1812, and no other work for this ensemble would be written in the last years of Beethoven’s life.
Whilst, therefore, this genre cannot be considered as Beethoven’s “private journal” in the same fashion as piano sonatas or string quartets are acknowledged to be, this does not detract from the value of the individual works he wrote for this ensemble.
His three Sonatas op. 12 – the above-mentioned first set – are dedicated to Antonio Salieri. The much-maligned “bad guy” of the movie Amadeus was in fact a very kind and generous person, with whom Beethoven had studied for years (not least because he taught for free).
Their style is less advanced than that of the coeval works for other instrumental media, such as, for example, the op. 10 Piano Sonatas. But this was rather usual with Beethoven: when attempting a work in a new genre, he preferred to adopt a “safer” style, and only later to try his most daring experiments as concerns harmony, timbre or form.
In these Sonatas, Mozart’s influence is clearly discernible, and this is obviously not intended as a criticism; indeed, Beethoven seems to have learnt perfectly the language of Viennese Classicism, which he was about to surpass within a few years. However, the brio and vigour of young Beethoven are also evident, from the very outset of Sonata op. 12 no. 1. The equal footing of the two instruments is also unequivocally affirmed from the beginning, where it is the violin who presents the first motif and the first theme. This first movement is breathtaking, with a whirlwind of musical ideas and of fantasy; moreover, Beethoven abundantly employs contrapuntal elements which were not at all usual in this genre prior to him.
The form of the theme with Variations – one of Beethoven’s preferred genres – characterizes the second movement; in this case, the piano has the honour to present the theme. Among these four variations, the last two stand out for their beauty and clear characterization.
The finale, a Rondo, is typical for the humorous young Beethoven, with its purposefully folklike style and its cantabile sections. In spite of the seeming simplicity of the musical material, Beethoven demonstrates his sophistication as a composer in inserting unexpected harmonies and modulations.
Already in the third Sonata, however, Beethoven seems to have found an even more personal vein. This work is characterized by a very mature sense of form and by a powerful and majestic construction. Moreover, the technical demands of the piano part are really of a concertante style, and contribute to the sense of grandiosity and magniloquence characterizing this Sonata. Even though it can be argued that the piano does more than his share of the overall work, the two instruments are still on a plane of equality, and their dialogue is always interesting and lively.
It is however with the second movement that this Sonata reaches its expressive climax. As is commonly known, Beethoven frequently reserved his Adagios for his most intimate expressions, and vice-versa. And this happens here too, with this first Adagio in his oeuvre for violin and piano. At first its opening melody seems rather composed and self-conscious, but then it expands and opens the window for the most unexpected expressive outbursts of the violin.
Once more, the Finale swipes away the enchantment of the previous movement, almost as if feeling ashamed for its excessive confidences. This Rondo is characterized by neatly sculpted motifs, juxtaposed so as to create a continuous variety and opposition of colours, styles and feelings.
The three Sonatas op. 30 were written in the early years of the new century, and were dedicated to Tsar Alexander I of Russia, who was visiting Vienna at the time of their publication. Even though just a few years had passed between the composition of the earlier set and that of the present one, the situation of Beethoven’s life was completely different. Deafness had started to show itself and to loom on his future career and musical aspirations. He had been ordered by his doctor to spend some time in Heiligenstadt, in the countryside near Vienna, in the hope that its better climate could help his health. This did not happen, and, as is well known, the deep suffering experienced by the young composer would find verbal expression in the so-called Heiligenstadt Testament.
However, this tragedy does not always surface in his music. Indeed, Sonata op. 30 no. 1 is characterized by serenity and tenderness, as is particularly evident, for example, in the second theme of its first movement. Similarly, the Adagio, with its characteristic dotted rhythm, is built on a singing tune, characterized by intense lyricism and peaceful contemplation, even though touches of sadness are clearly discernible here and there. A theme and variations is found as the concluding movement; probably, at first Beethoven had imagined what has now become the Presto of the Kreutzer-Sonate to stand in its place. The final choice, however, is more balanced inasmuch as it retains the overall mood of this Sonata.
An even more impressive playfulness characterizes op. 30 no. 3, in which contrasting moods never fail to elicit the listener’s attention. The first movement presents an unusual homogeneity in its musical material, whereby no great oppositions between first and second theme is found. The second movement is in the tempo of a Menuet, and radiates serenity. Its theme alludes to Haydn, and also its style pays homage to Beethoven’s former teacher. The Finale is inspired by peasant music, possibly under the influence of the Heiligenstadt life; certainly, it is seen with the eye of a most refined composer, who still enjoyed some rustic atmosphere and the possibility of shocking his listeners.
Together, these Sonatas draw a splendid itinerary within the output for violin and piano of the young Beethoven; retrospectively, and considering that this album closes a series, they shed new light on his overall oeuvre, and illuminate it with their youthful freshness.
Chiara Bertoglio © 2021
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.