Friday, December 4, 2020

Beethoven 1-2-3

No. 348 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at

Most of our programming this month is dedicated to Beethoven’s 250th birthday, and the tewo Friday podcasts are indeed part of that mix. This week, we turn to Beethoven’s ample contributions to the chamber repertoire, with three works, which follow the sequence 1, 2 and 3.

The Beethoven catalogue has many trio combinations: string trios (violin, viola and cello), wind trios (two oboes and cor anglais), trios for piano, clarinet and cello but the most well known are for the standard piano trio (piano, violin and cello). For that specific combination, he composed at least seven trios, two series of variations as well as a few stand-alone movements. From his first collection (his opus 1), I retained is trio no. 1, from the original configuration of the Beaux Arts Trio.

The ten Beethoven sonatas represent the most important body of work for violin and piano. The Beethoven violin sonatas do not quite span his whole life’s work, as do the piano sonatas or string quartets for instance. His last example is from 1812, whist he was still just managing to perform in public and a full 15 years before his death. As always with this unique genius, the standard across the cycle is unwaveringly superb, often touching absolute greatness. There is no weak sonata – but then we would be amazed were we to find one. They give a particular insight into Beethoven as a young man, full of confidence as composer and pianist, and blazing a trail for a new way forward. I retained the sonata no. 2, performed by Martha Argerich and Gidon Kremer.

Beethoven inherited the string-quartet tradition from his predecessors and shaped it into something unsurpassed in virtuosity, invention, and expressiveness. He wrote 16 string quartets, and they reveal his evolution as a composer and a man. It’s all there: earthy wit (yes, Beethoven could crack a joke), volatile temper (his fury was state of the art), and personal sorrow (he had plenty to weep about). On today’s montage, I retained no. 3, performed by the 1950’s lineup of the Budapest String Quartet.

I think you will love this music too.

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