About this work
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. Also, Beethoven was the first to completely write out the keyboard parts for large-scale cello and keyboard works.
Large temporal gaps appear in Beethoven's composition of sonatas for cello and piano. The first two, Opus 5, were composed in 1796, while Beethoven was in Berlin. He would not embark on another such project until 1807, when he composed the Sonata, Op. 69. Eight years later he would return to the idiom to write a pair of sonatas that appeared as Op. 102.
Published in March 1817 by Simrock in Bonn, the Sonatas for Cello and Piano, Op. 102, were dedicated to the Countess Marie von Erdödy (1779-1837), although only in a later, Vienna publication. The Countess had been friends with the composer since about 1803. Beethoven actually lived with her and her husband, Count Peter Erdödy, for a time in 1808. The Countess, who after leaving Vienna in 1815 continued to correspond with Beethoven, also received the dedication of the Trios, Op. 70. During the last year of the Erdödys' residence in Vienna, they spent the summer at Jedlersee with Beethoven. Because Count Razumovsky's palace had burned down earlier in the year, his resident cellist, Joseph Linke, also spent the summer at Jedlersee with the Erdödy family. Beethoven's close contact with the cellist provided the inspiration for the composition of the Opus 102 cello sonatas. The sonatas of Opus 102 developed during the period of Beethoven's withdrawal from society, perhaps explaining the intimacy of the works. His self-imposed distance from his fellow Viennese was probably in large part due to an increasing deterioration in his hearing -- the Conversation Books date from 1818 onward.
The final work written by the composer for solo instrument and piano, Beethoven's Sonata for cello and piano No. 5 traverses the terrain covered by the composer in his late string quartets. The overall construction of the sonata, Opus 2/2, reveals Beethoven's continuing quest to create a fluid, "total sonata," that was more than a sum of its movements. Except for Bach's solo suites, this sonata is regarded as the most technically and spiritually taxing major work for cello before the twentieth century.
Opening without a slow introduction, the first movement of Opus 102/2, marked Allegro con brio, is a diminutive sonata-form structure with a harmonically adventurous development section and a modified recapitulation. Unlike all other of Beethoven's cello sonatas, No. 2 contains a fully fledged slow movement. Nevertheless, it is joined to the finale through a harmonic device: the final chord of the Adagio is a dominant seventh chord that tends to resolve toward the tonic; the finale, in D major, begins immediately. The most interesting feature of the sonata is the fugue in the last movement. Its harsh-sounding, relentless counterpoint looks ahead to the "Hammerklavier" Sonata and the Grosse Fuge. The subject of the cello sonata fugue is obviously derived from Baroque models; this is especially evident in the large leap downward from B natural to C sharp. The return of first-movement themes in the finale seems to function more as reminiscence than as recapitulation.