Week 39 – Bob’s Beethoven Blog

Posted on August, 14th 2021

Beethoven Cello and Piano Sonatas

Beethoven wrote five sonatas for piano and cello. They are: Opus 5 No 1 in F Major and No 2 in G minor both written in 1795; Opus 69 in A Major written in 1808; and Opus 102 No 1 in C Major and No 2 in D Major both written in 1815. You will notice that each grouping falls in a different one of Beethoven’s style periods. The Opus 102 sonatas share most of the characteristics of the last period. Concise use of material, intellect, writing sometimes ethereal and distant, sometimes quite aggressive. There is, however, always that mysterious looking over the emotional and psychological horizon showing us his view of his mind and the universe. Keep your minds open as you listen to these masterpieces and let Beethoven in.

Please play the above two links one after the other in order to hear the Sonata Op. 102 No 1 played by the great Janos Starker. You will hear  in his playing a wonderful purity of approach. His intonation is perfect and he plays with immaculate precision and taste. When I was a student at Indiana University Starker was the primary cello teacher. He had a wonderful class of students who all played with the same musical integrity. He had his notion of what great cello playing was and it didn’t matter to him what was fashionable at the time. He tried to play in the same style as Emmanuel Feuermann and that school. I remember how he used to rail against what he called tonal discrepancies, distortions caused by rash, inattentive or thoughtless playing. In addition, some people preferred a more aggressive, lush, romantic approach. Of course that will be always more popular but Starker would be undeterred. He stuck to his musical guns. While I admired his prowess then I admire it even more now.

Listen now to Opus 102 No2 played by the incomparable Mstislav Rostropovich cello and Sviatoslav Richter piano. What a contrast in style from Starker! This Russian style of playing is far more aggressive and out front. Many would say it’s more emotional. Well if that’s what extroverted means then it is. I love his playing as much as I love Starker’s approach. Good is good. Isn’t it fortunate that we don’t have to choose either red wine or white wine? I hope you will enjoy and revel in these two fantastic sonatas as performed by two of the leading virtuosos of the 20th century.