Landscape with Ruth and Boaz (1823/5) by Joseph Anton Koch
Sonata no.8 for piano and violin in G major Op.30/3 (1802, Beethoven aged 31)
1. Allegro assai
2. Tempo di minuetto, ma molto moderato e grazioso
3. Allegro vivace
Dedication Tsar Alexander I
by Ben Hogwood
Background and Critical Reception
For the third in his Op.30 set of violin sonatas, Beethoven moves from the turbulence of C minor to the fresh air of G major. This is a piece, in Gerald Abraham’s words, ‘so short and unpretentious that it can be easily undervalued. Yet there is no Beethoven sonata remotely like it, and it is one of his wittiest and most delightful works. Again he seems at once to revitalize the past and to point to the future.’
Abraham singles out the second movement, ‘an exceedingly beautiful slow minuet which, far from being old-fashioned…generates the sort of expressive warmth we have already found in the slow movement of Op.24 (the Spring sonata). Jan Swafford finds a lovely description of the opening of the piece, ‘a swirling unison followed by a lilting (and a touch tipsy) theme, complete with hiccup in the violin. The rondo of the G major is one of the most whimsical finales he ever wrote, its theme a spinning folk tune over a bagpipe drone, starting a brilliant and smile-inducing movement unlike anything else in his work. Call it Haydnesque wit and folksiness gone deliriously over the top.’
This is a fun piece and, as the commentators above have noted, a compact marvel. Not a note is wasted, from the exuberant beginning, where violin and piano toy with a phrase like a cat with a ball of string, to the airy slow movement, which has the air of a Bach sicilienne in its beautiful simplicity. Here the instruments finish each other’s sentences in an intimate setting.
Beethoven packs his faster music with good melodies, many of them derived from the opening mood. The second movement has a softer side but is warm with it, though a central section finds Beethoven moving to further and less certain keys and musical language.
The finale is as good as they say, high-spirited and bubbling with energy. It is essentially a jig, the ideas once again passed between the instruments, with bird-like calls from the violin recalling an early Haydn quartet from the Op.33 set, the Bird.
A lovely piece – and a guaranteed mood-lifter.
Recordings used and Spotify playlist
Midori Seiler (violin), Jos van Immerseel (fortepiano) (Zig Zag Classics)
Yehudi Menuhin (violin), Wilhelm Kempff (Deutsche Grammophon)
Josef Suk (violin), Jan Panenka (piano) (Supraphon)
Alina Ibragimova (violin), Cédric Tiberghien (Wigmore Hall Live)
Tasmin Little (violin), Martin Roscoe (piano) (Chandos)
Frank Peter Zimmermann (violin), Martin Helmchen (BIS)
Paul Barritt (violin), James Lisney (piano) (Woodhouse Editions)
Arthur Grumiaux (violin), Clara Haskil (piano) (Philips)
Augustin Dumay (violin), Maria João Pires (piano) (Deutsche Grammophon)
Some very enjoyable recordings here, the approach again falling between the leaner sound of the period-instruments (Midori Seiler and Jos Van Immerseel) and the more overtly romantic approach of Suk and Panenka. Yehudi Menuhin and Wilhelm Kempff have fun, while Dumay and Pires enjoy the work’s exuberance too.
The Spotify playlist below does not contain the Barritt / Lisney version, but does also include a highly powered account by Gidon Kremer and Martha Argerich, recorded for Deutsche Grammophon:
You can chart the Arcana Beethoven playlist as it grows, with one recommended version of each piece we listen to. Catch up here!
Also written in 1802 Samuel Wesley – Symphony in B flat major
Next up 7 Bagatelles Op.33