Violin Sonata No.9

Ludwig van Beethoven

Violin Sonata No.9 in A major

Op. 47 • “Kreutzer”

Recommended recording

Curated by Maryna Boiko, Primephonic Curator

About this work

Although the "Kreutzer" Sonata, Op. 47, is dedicated to Rodolphe Kreutzer, the original dedication was to George P. Bridgetower (1779-1860), for whom the piece was written. Bridgetower, an African-Polish violinist who lived in London, toured Europe in 1802 and 1803. Upon his arrival in Vienna he was introduced by Prince Lichnowsky to Beethoven, who set about fashioning two movements to precede a finale he had originally intended for the Op. 30/1 sonata. Because the date for Bridgetower's concert had been set, Beethoven had to work quickly to complete the virtuosic piece before its first performance by Bridgetower and the composer on May 24, 1803.

Rodolphe Kreutzer (1766-1831) was a French violinist of great renown whom Beethoven met in Vienna in 1798. Beethoven's decision to dedicate the sonata to Kreutzer instead of Bridgetower was probably related to his intended move to Paris and a wish to ingratiate himself with French musical luminaries. (Beethoven was also considering "Bonaparte" as a title for his Third Symphony.) Legend has it that Beethoven changed the dedication because he and Bridgetower quarreled over a woman. Kreutzer most likely never knew of the dedication, and it is almost certain that he never played the piece.

The "Kreutzer" Sonata was published in 1805 by Simrock in Bonn and Birchall in London. Beethoven described the piece as "written in a very concertante style, like that of a concerto," explaining the internal conflict generally associated with his larger works. Furthermore, the piano writing is much more powerful than in preceding works, anticipating the piano sonatas Opp. 53 and 54.

Beethoven's "new path" is everywhere evident in the first movement of the "Kreutzer" Sonata. The only slow introduction Beethoven ever wrote for a violin sonata is actually the only portion of the movement in A major, which gives way to A minor at the beginning of the Presto sonata-form section. Although thematic material is very abundant, Beethoven focuses on one theme from the closing group throughout the development, which spirals progressively deeper into flat-key territory, realizing the implications of B flat major's brief appearance early in the exposition. Development of the first theme does not occur until the lengthy, weighty coda, which is much more symphonic than chamber-style in conception. The vast dimensions and free formal treatment of Beethoven's great middle-period works are not far away.

More lighthearted than the preceding movement, the central Andante, in F major, is a set of variations. The third of the four variations is in the tonic minor. In each variation, Beethoven stretches the melodic aspect of the theme nearly beyond recognition while maintaining the harmonic progression and pattern of repetition of the original.

A tarantella rhythm and 6/8 time contribute to the finale's atmosphere of interminable forward motion, which is enhanced by the introduction of the first theme in a fugal treatment, The sonata-form movement features a second theme on the dominant and in 2/4, which shifts immediately back to 6/8 for the closing material. Because it was originally intended for the Sonata in A major, Op. 30/1, the finale was extant months before Beethoven composed the first two movements. The prominence of F major in the development section of the finale may have prompted Beethoven to compose the Andante in that key, as well as to touch on flat keys in the first movement. In Tolstoy's novella The Kreutzer Sonata, the work symbolizes the ultimate in the powerful sensuous appeal of music.