Triumph Over Adversity
While composers often display the influence of their forebears, few come to create a whole new genre. One such rarity was Ludwig van Beethoven, whose compositions for cello and piano were unprecedented. When he started this process the cello was basically a supportive instrument in the orchestra's bass section.
His Sonata No. 1 for Cello and Piano in F Major, Op. 5 (1796) was indeed the first of its kind anywhere (its closest relative, the classical violin sonata, was even then a relatively new genre). In it one hears Beethoven working out the cello-piano interplay. That same year Beethoven also composed a set of variations in decorative, high-classical style for cello and piano: the Twelve Variations on a Theme From Handel's Oratorio "Judas Maccabaeus." As with all of the nearly 70 sets of variations Beethoven would eventually compose, "Judas Maccabaeus" is technically demanding and possessive of great virtuosity.
Beethoven returned to his new genre in 1808 with the Cello Sonata No. 3 in A Major, Op. 69, completed the same year as his remarkable Fifth and Sixth symphonies. Though highly lyrical and including many seemingly carefree moments, this piece has a melancholy undercurrent. His final works in this form came another seven years on. Cello Sonata No. 4 in C Major, Op. 102 was composed as Beethoven became increasingly reclusive due to his encroaching deafness. Interestingly, it is during his last period that he became more and more innovative, and in this sonata he seeks a highly fluid structure. The boundaries between movements begin to blur as fantasy competes with traditional musical structure.
The Florestan Duo-UW-Milwaukee faculty member Stefan Kartman and Jeannie Yu-conclude their two-concert series encompassing all of Beethoven's works for cello and piano with performances of all of the aforementioned works. Noting how the program reflects different periods in Beethoven's creative life, Kartman observes that he and Yu "have had an opportunity to, in a sense, grow up with Beethoven, to watch the early glimmer of his pride…through his struggles as his genius becomes recognized…as his music triumphs over the adversity of going deaf. Bearing witness to Beethoven's life through his music is an inspiration to us all."
The Florestan Duo concert takes place in the UWM Peck School of the Arts Recital Hall on April 6.