Sonata for Piano and Violin, Op.47, “Kreutzer”

Virtual Viewing Period: Dec. 11th, 5:00PM (PST) – Dec. 14th, 11:59PM (PST)

by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

  • Adagio sostenuto – Presto
  • Andante con variazioni
  • Presto

The Kreutzer Sonata was originally dedicated to the virtuoso violinist George Bridgetower; he was visiting Vienna in the spring of 1803 and there he encountered Beethoven. The two men hit it off instantly. They planned a concert together and Beethoven hurried to complete a sonata he had begun the previous year so as to include it on the program. With precious little if any rehearsal, Beethoven and Bridgetower premiered the Piano and Violin Sonata, Op. 47 on May 24, 1803 to an enthusiastic audience. After the concert however, the two men went out drinking, and Bridgetower happened to insult a woman who was high in Beethoven’s favour, and the two had a serious falling out. Furious, Beethoven changed his original dedication, “Mulatto Sonata composed for the mulatto Brischdauer, great madman mulatto composer” to a simple dedication to the well-known violinist and composer Rodolphe Kreutzer, whom he barely knew. Kreutzer reputedly disliked the piece and never performed it; yet ever after, it has become known as the “Kreutzer”, thus immortalizing his name forever -- Bridgetower remained bitter for the rest of his life.

The sonata is written in three movements. The first, Adagio sostenuto – Presto, opens with a slow solo violin introduction in A major. When the piano enters, the colour darkens to a minor key, the pace quickens and the notes begin to fly in tempestuous volleys interspersed with quiet moments of great intimacy. The piano presents a simple tune in F major at the outset of the second movement, Andante con variazioni. What follows is a remarkable set of five distinctive variations that vary as much in rhythm, texture and embellishment as in mood – ranging from charming to heartfelt. Launched by the piano’s crashing A major chord, the third movement, Presto, catapults into an exuberant gallop punctuated by contrasting episodes. The music mounts in intensity and breadth and concludes in a jubilant frenzy.

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