Latvian classical violinist Gidon Kremer and the Argentine pianist Martha Argerich perform Ludwig van Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 9 Opus 47, commonly known as the “Kreutzer Sonata”. A 1995 recording, enjoy!
The sonata was originally dedicated to the Afro-European (born in Poland) violinist George Bridgetower (11 October 1778 – 29 February 1860), who performed it with Beethoven at the premiere on 24 May 1803 at the Augarten Theatre at a concert that started at the unusually early hour of 8:00 am. Bridgetower sight-read the sonata; he had never seen the work before, and there had been no time for any rehearsal. However, research indicates that after the performance, while the two were drinking, Bridgetower insulted the morals of a woman whom Beethoven cherished. Enraged, Beethoven removed the dedication of the piece, dedicating it instead to the French violinist Rodolphe Kreutzer (15 November 1766 – 6 January 1831), who was considered the finest violinist of the day. However, Kreutzer never performed it, considering it “outrageously unintelligible”. He did not particularly care for any of Beethoven’s music, and they only ever met once, briefly.
Sources suggest the work was originally titled “Sonata mulattica composta per il mulatto Brischdauer (Bridgetower), gran pazzo e compositore mulattico” (Mulatto Sonata composed for the mulatto Brischdauer, big wild mulatto composer), and in the composer’s 1803 sketchbook, as a “Sonata per il Pianoforte ed uno violino obligato in uno stile molto concertante come d’un concerto”.
The piece is in three movements:
- Adagio sostenuto – Presto (A major – A minor, sonata form) The sonata opens with a slow 18-bar introduction, of which only the first four bars of the solo violin are in the A-Major-key. The piano enters, and the harmony begins to turn darker towards the minor key, until the main body of the movement -an angry A-minor Presto- begins. Here, the piano part matches the violin’s in terms of difficulty. Near the end, Beethoven brings back part of the opening Adagio, before closing the movement in an anguished coda.
- Andante con variazioni (F major, variation form, with the third variation in F minor) There could hardly be a greater contrast with the second movement, a placid tune in F major followed by five distinctive variations. The first variation transliterates the theme into a lively triple meter while embellishing it with trills, while in the second the violin steals the melody and enlivens it even further. The third variation, in F minor, returns to a darker and more meditative state. The fourth recalls the first and second variations with its light, ornamental, and airy feel. The fifth and final variation, the longest, caps the movement with a slower and more dramatic feel, nevertheless returning to the carefree F major.
- Presto (A major, sonata form) The calm is broken by a crashing A major chord in the piano, ushering in the virtuosic and exuberant third movement, a 6/8 tarantella in sonata form. After moving through a series of slightly contrasting episodes, the theme returns for the last time, and the work ends jubilantly in a rush of A major.
Referring to Beethoven’s composition, Leo Tolstoy’s novella The Kreutzer Sonata was first published in 1889. That novella was adapted in various stage and film productions, contributing to Beethoven’s composition becoming known to the general public.
- Violin Sonata No. 9 (Beethoven) on wikipedia
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