“Beethoven Plus”is a project initiated by tonight’s performers, Krysia Osostowicz and Daniel Tong, in which they invited contemporary composers to provide a companion piece to each of the ten violin sonatas of Beethoven.
A Major Chase Peter Ash (1961 – )
Peter Ash writes: What do we know about Beethoven’s sense of humour? In his private life, apparently he could be coarse and a bit crude. In his music, his humour assumes many forms, ranging from what I call ‘the gods laughing’ to a more down-to earth merriment which he described as “aufgeknöpft” or unbuttoned. This unbuttoned humour was my starting point in a musical response to the Sonata in A Major, Opus 12 No. 2. Beyond that, I enjoyed emulating the great man by including simple rhetorical gestures, extremes of register, silence and even a little fugato. I thought of a scenario with two or even three characters in a game of tag – perhaps Bartók meets Tom and Jerry.
Sonata in A, op.12 no. 2 Beethoven (1770 – 1827)
Allegro vivace; Andante, piu tosto Allegretto; Allegro piacevole
The first three violin sonatas, op. 12, were published in 1799 and dedicated to Salieri. Each has three movements. In the sunny second sonata, the first movement amuses in the way the 6/8 rhythm is shared between the two instruments. The second, andante (or rather allegretto), is tender and naïve. And the final delightful rondo is certainly “pleasing” with its flow of cheerful melody.
Last ACMC performance: the Theuveny Duo, February 1955
The Neglected Child Judith Bingham (1952 – )
Judith Bingham writes: Lewis Lockwood described Beethoven’s 4th violin sonata (op. 23) as “bleak, odd and distant, the neglected child in the family of Beethoven violin sonatas, despite its original and experimental moments.” The words ‘neglected child’ caught my eye and immediately became the title of my short musical introduction. For me the Beethoven is full of silences and shortened notes, throwaway endings, and many downward phrases. Any moments of hope seem childlike, easily blown away. The ending seems to be galloping, charging towards great resolve but is achieved by a kind of despairing sigh instead, disappearing down the end of the piano. My piece references some of the musical ideas in the sonata but also its gestures, its silences and the often thin textures. However, it does so very slowly, giving a feeling of a child staring out of a window, lost in an internal world of dreams and fantasy.
Sonata in A minor, op. 23 Beethoven
Presto; Andante scherzoso, piu Allegretto; Allegro molto
Although only published a couple of years later than the op. 12 sonatas, op.23 (and its better known companion, the Spring Sonata op.24) shows a considerable advance in technique. The first movement, unusually fast, is terse but imaginative – in the development section a new theme is introduced just before the recapitulation – and then the coda finally dies away into nothingness. The andante, in A major, has a simple melody, then plays with a fugal section, before the melody reappears with delightful embellishments. The last movement, again a rondo, contrasts brilliant quaver passages with chordal semi-breves, almost reminiscent of Mozart’s Jupiter symphony. First ACMC performance
Sonatina David Matthews (1943 – )
David Matthews writes: When Krysia Osostowicz and Daniel Tong asked me to write a companion to one of Beethoven’s violin sonatas, I chose his last sonata, op.96 in G, which has long been my favourite. I conceived the idea of a short sonatina modelled on Beethoven’s formal and tonal plan, but severely curtailed in length. My first three movements even have the same tempo indications, though my finale is much faster than Beethoven’s Poco Allegretto. The wonderful trill at the start of op. 96 plays an important part in all my four movements.
The movements follow through without a break, and are all based on the same material. The first is an extremely concise sonata movement, with first and second subjects in the “correct” keys of G and D, a development that follows Beethoven’s own sequence of modulations, a recapitulation in the home key, and a coda. All this takes less than two minutes. The slow movement, in Beethoven’s E flat (though tonally more adventurous and ending in C minor), uses my first movement’s initial rising octave and the opening phrase of the second subject. The G minor scherzo lasts only a minute; in the central trio the violin plays entirely in natural harmonics. The boisterous finale is also in an abbreviated sonata form, and towards the end there is a brief slow section, paralleling the one in Beethoven’s finale – in my case, a reminiscence of the slow movement.
Sonata in G, op. 96 Beethoven
Allegro moderato; Adagio espressivo; Scherzo Allegro; Poco allegretto
Composed in 1812 for the great French violinist, Pierre Rode, and dedicated to the Archduke Rudolf, with whom Rode gave the first performance, this is the last of the ten sonatas. It comes from late in the so-called second period of Beethoven’s work, and even foreshadows the later, great string quartets, in its structure and moods. The first movement builds from the violin’s first tentative breath into an intimate exchange between the two voices. In the meditative adagio the violin’s restatement of the theme is delayed, and the movement then leads straight to the spiky scherzo, which has a gentler trio section. The scherzo in its turn is only resolved at the start of the last movement, a theme and variations based on an old “singspiel”. At its heart is a contemplative adagio espressivo, where the two instruments muse in an almost improvisatory fashion, before the brilliant ending.
First ACMC performance