Cello Sonata No.5 in D major Op.102/2

Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven (b. 1770 - d. 1827)
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Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven (b. 1770 - d. 1827)

Performance date: 03/07/2018

Venue: Bantry Library

Composition Year: 1815

Duration: 00:19:20

Recording Engineer: Tom Norton, RTÉ

Instrumentation: vc, pf

Instrumentation Category:Duo

Artists: Nathalia Milstein - [piano]
Andreas Brantelid - [cello]


Andreas Brantelid [cello], Nathalia Milstein [piano]

Ludwig van Beethoven [1770-1827]

Cello Sonata no 5 in D major Op.102/2 [1815]

  • Allegro con brio
  • Adagio con molto sentimento d’affetto
  • Allegro – Allegro fugato

In terms of public reputation, 1814 was a triumph for Beethoven. He was shown off by the Hapsburgs at the Congress of Vienna as an example of the cultural vitality, not to say supremacy, of the new Austro-Hungarian Empire. Archduke Rudolph introduced him to the crowned heads of Europe.  His symphony dedicated to Wellington’s Victory at the Battle of Vittoria was composed to satisfy the triumphal mood. It was clearly so blatantly a piece of empty orchestral rhetoric that some of his friends were concerned. This does not seem to have bothered Beethoven.

Beethoven had composed few major works since 1813. The period 1813 to 1817 have been described as his “fallow years”. After the public triumph of 1814, 1815 saw a return to privacy and isolation. His deafness was now nearly complete, he gave up any hopes of marriage and he started on a long, time consuming, depressing and humiliating legal case to obtain custody of his nephew Carl. 

While 1815 may have been an unproductive year by Beethoven’s normal standards, he did write the two cello sonatas Op.102. The second of these is the first work written unambiguously in Beethoven’s late style The Piano Sonata Op.101 was written a year later. The first movement shows two key features of this style. The first is compression. There are few long linking passages. All the music is important and plays a part in the structure.  Second, Beethoven builds his themes from scraps of material which can chop and change in a few bars. 

The first movement is in sonata from. It opens with the piano which does a simple turn and leaps an octave. This is repeated and then is followed by a series of rising notes. That’s all and it’s the main theme of the movement. The cello enters with more rising notes and then engages in a brief swoon as if to say “well I am a cello after all”. A jaunty and more lyrical second subject follows. After the recapitulation, there is a wonderful coda where Beethoven moves far away from the home key and then returns, as if from a great distance, with a long crescendo to the final chords.

The slow movement is the heart of this sonata. The cello opens with a stark slow tune in D minor made up of four simple phrases. This is developed and embellished. The middle section in D major is the emotional climax of the movement. As Schindler, Beethoven’s first biographer wrote about it, among the richest and most deeply sensitive inspirations of Beethoven’s muse.  The final variation of the slow movement moves delicately into the finale which begins with a fugue. It took Beethoven a great deal of trouble to write this fugue and it takes some listeners a great deal of trouble to enjoy it. The formal section comes to a climax half way through the movement. Thereafter Beethoven combines fugal and other elements to produce a crazy finale. 

On its own, this sonata is amazing. It also marks the beginning of the period in which this lonely, deaf and depressed composer would write some of his greatest works. 

David Winter