About this work
In May-July 1796 Beethoven was in Berlin as part of a concert tour, traveling (as Mozart had done in 1789) with Prince Lichnowsky. While there, he composed, or at least began, a number of important works, including the Cello Sonatas, Op. 5, and the Variations for cello and piano in G major on "See the conqu'ring hero comes" from Handel's oratorio, Judas Maccabaeus, WoO. 45. The Cello Sonatas, Op. 5, are dedicated to Friedrich Wilhelm II, King of Prussia, a capable amateur cellist. Beethoven occasionally sought to dedicate works to influential people in the hopes of obtaining a reward; in the case of the Op. 5 sonatas, Beethoven received a gold snuff box filled with louis d'or (twenty franc gold pieces).
The first cellist of the Court Orchestra (and Wilhelm II's teacher) was Jean-Pierre Duport (1741 - 1818); it was for him that Beethoven composed the two Cello Sonatas, Op. 5. The premiere of the two sonatas was given in Berlin in May or June of 1796; it is possible that Beethoven performed the works not with Jean-Pierre Duport, but with Duport's younger brother, Jean-Louis. Regardless of which brother actually played, the performance style and ability of these two famous cellists certainly influenced Beethoven's composition for the instrument. In fact, a few aspects of the cello writing in the Op. 5 sonatas appear in a tutorial volume for the instrument later published by Jean-Louis Duport. The two Sonatas of Op. 5 were printed in February 1797 by Artaria & Co. in Vienna.
Beethoven's composition of sonatas for cello and piano was unprecedented; he had no models in the works of Haydn or Mozart. Only recently had the instrument begun to liberate itself from its role in the traditional basso continuo. The sonatas of Op. 5 are remarkable in the density of their material, for the composer's ability to relate more distant keys to the tonic, and for their completely written-out keyboard parts (rather than figured bass, which would have been more common at the time), in which the composer's native instrument assumes an equal voice to that of the soloist; in all of these ways the two sonatas have no parallel in their time.
Each of the two sonatas of Op. 5 features a slow introduction in the manner of Haydn's symphonies; that for No. 1, in F major, is rhapsodic in nature, and acts as a true prelude to the movement's broad main theme (Allegro). Beethoven's experimentation with tonal materials is most impressive in the second theme area of the first movement; although he modulates clearly and firmly to C major (the dominant) for the secondary theme, the presence of A-flat major looms large. The recapitulation presents an abbreviated form of the exposition, the main theme appearing fully fledged only in the coda.
The second movement of this two-movement work is a rondo in 6/8 meter; its texture and character are much lighter than those of the first movement. Both players have chances to display their technical facility in this movement, the appeal of which lies in its quicksilver passage work and good humor.
Curated by Suzanne van Duuren, Primephonic Curator