June Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven
Cello Sonata No.5 in d major, 1815
I had to go searching for this sonata, the other three Beethoven posts having exhausted my well known pieces. I toyed with a number of other compositions but they didn’t speak to me as loudly as this one did. This one shouted. There’s something about the weaving of the languid cello and crisp piano that lubricates the music for me. I swam about it in for a while and found myself suddenly quite reflective but also relaxed and joyful. I do seem to have thing for Beethoven’s sonatas.
The last of only five cello sonatas in Beethoven’s colossal repertoire, this 19 minute sonata comes in the traditional three movements. It bursts to life quite suddenly but is then followed by an achingly beautiful slower movement that seems to wind its way further and further inward until it shifts into a joyous and dance-like fugue. The fugue ends the sonata unexpectedly on a high, almost triumphant note, not dissimilar to the Symphony 9. (Clearly on a different scale).
This piece manages to entwine the piano and the cello as if they were two siblings from the same parent sometimes in conversation with each other, sometimes moving together, but always complimentary to the story.
Siblings is indeed a strong image here. A brother and sister, twins, at once earthly familiar but at the same time slightly foreign to each other. Moving through their childhoods together, inseparable, complimentary. But then boom, adolescence and differences are more marked, pointed out and commented from within and without. For a while they are pulled this way and that by continual difference, continual similarities and they begin to pull apart, to define themselves and become wholly separate. Then adulthood, they reconvene and rediscover each other, in the realisation that the difference was really only outside and not inside. A celebration ensues, a dance, a waltz of joy, a triumph of humanity.
Beethoven’s career spanned the classical and the romantic periods. Some say Beethoven himself is responsible for the transition to the romantic period. A time when society moved from thinking of others or religion to thinking of the self, to philosophy. This piece was written during what’s called the third part of his creative life. With the struggle and trauma of losing his hearing he pulled away from life only to find his art called him back into it. He emerged triumphant, writing some of the most brilliant, complex and wonderful masterpieces that changed the playing field of music for those who came after him. You can hear it all in pieces like this, his obsession with the heroic. Fair enough too I say.
* images in order of appearance courtesy of public domain, public domain and all waltz photos by Eadweard Muybridge via public domain.