Beethoven: Cello Sonata No.5

June Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven

painting of beethoven with music score

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.

yin-and-yang symbolSiblings 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.

dance 1 dance 2 dance 3

dance 4 dance 5





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.


2 thoughts on “Beethoven: Cello Sonata No.5

  1. Lady Fancifull says:

    And another humdinger! And Tortelier! I like what you say re ‘twins’ Funnily enough I went to a couple of concerts a few years ago, with different ‘star’ cellists, and both played one of the other Beethoven cello sonatas (can’t give you which as I never remember the numerical classifications!) but, with one of the cellists particularly, the Argentinian Sol Gabetta, the image which came to mind was the music flirting with itself (not the performers, the music) there was a really delicious interplay which the performers displayed in the musical phrases


    • theclassicalnovice says:

      Thank you again. I find it more obvious (the flirting, playful conversation) when there’s just two instruments but you can hear it in trios and quartets as well and sometimes in concertos. There’s a definite conversational element that’s hard to ignore once you’ve recognised it. I read an account of a concert pianist recently who said her trio had to learn how to play with each other, how to make each instrument speak because they were all used to being soloists and that they learned an enormous amount about the music when they began playing well together.

      Liked by 1 person

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