Violin Sonata No.10 in G major Op.96

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

Performance date: 02/07/2023

Venue: Bantry House

Composition Year: 1812

Duration: 00:28:55

Recording Engineer: Tom Norton, RTÉ

Instrumentation: vn, pf

Instrumentation Category:Duo

Artists: Mairead Hickey - [violin]
Jérémie Moreau - [piano]

Ludwig van Beethoven [1770-1827]

Violin Sonata No.10 in G major Op.96 [1812]

1. Allegro moderato

2. Adagio espressivo – attacca

3. Scherzo – Allegro

4. Poco allegretto

Beethoven’s last and greatest violin sonata dates from 1812, the year of the famous Immortal Beloved letter and the Seventh and Eighth Symphonies. The previous year he had written his last piano trio, the matchless Archduke Trio Op.97, dedicated to his friend, pupil and most loyal patron, Archduke Rudolph. The third remarkable chamber work from this period is the F minor Quartet Op.95, nicknamed Quartetto Serioso on account of its difficulty, dating from October 1810. The three works were published together in 1816 and the three together make an exceptional concert. The Sonata was not only dedicated to Rudolph but he also premiered it with the French violinist Pierre Rode. Beethoven may have begun the Sonata to deal with the double onslaught of disappointment in love and financial crisis – the Napoleonic Wars had led to a catastrophic devaluation of the Austrian currency reducing Beethoven’s income to a fifth of its previous level. However the spur to finish the Sonata was undoubtedly the visit of the famous violinist to Vienna in December, just as Bridgetower’s visit nine years earlier inspired the Kreutzer. Rode was noted for his pure, classical style of playing and Beethoven went to a lot of trouble to write a work to suit these qualities. It seems Rode did not like boisterous, virtuoso finales: In our finales we like to have fairly noisy passages, wrote the composer to his patron a few days before the premiere, but R does not care for them – and so I have been rather hampered.

The necessity of suiting the music to the performer may account for the Sonata’s air of tranquil beauty, a world apart from the flamboyance of the Kreutzer. They are in many ways diametrical opposites and though the G major Sonata is undeniably the greater work, it remains something of an unknown masterpiece. It does however share with the Kreutzer an opening by the solo violin, but in the gentlest possible way with a soft, four-note figure adorned with a trill, immediately answered by the tenor register in the piano. Beethoven’s genius for lending significance to the slightest phrase means this figure turns out to be the defining feature of the main theme and the most characteristic phrase of the whole movement. It quickly leads to an unusually tender and lyrical first subject. There is a tripping second subject, announced by the piano, which, right at the end of the exposition, blossoms into a particularly eloquent new theme. After the repeat, this irresistible idea is taken up in the development, which flows in a gentle unbroken line until a quiet exchange of trills beckons back the first subject. The coda also explores the opening trills before an abrupt final cadence clears the air for the profound mediation of the slow movement. 

This Adagio begins with one of those noble chorale-like themes that recur in Beethoven from the Pathétique Sonata to the late quartets. It is given to the piano, and the violin enters with a gentle dovetailing of its final cadence before offering her own more intimate melody. Later the roles are reversed, each instrument playing the other one’s melody with subtle variations and decorations. This is the most overwhelmingly beautiful movement of the ten Sonatas, the mature composer revealing another world for us to contemplate. The G minor scherzo follows without a break. This terse movement encloses a smiling trio in E flat, in the easy-going style of a country dance. After the da capo a brief coda translates the scherzo theme into G major, ending with an abrupt flourish.

The final movement of the series is a set of seven variations on a gentle, almost child-like theme. The first four variations are easily distinguishable; all except the first are double variations, each eight bar section being itself varied instead of merely repeated. The climax comes with Adagio espressivo fifth variation, a miracle of graceful ornamentation recalling the deeply meditative mood of the slow movement. In the last two variations Beethoven finally lets himself go, but keeps reining himself in for another last moment of tender retrospect.

Francis Humphrys