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About this Piece

Beethoven didn't return to the cello sonata during the decade following that Berlin trip. The reason for his reawakened interest in the genre isn't entirely clear, but sketches for the Op. 69 Cello Sonata appear among those for the Fifth Symphony and the Violin Concerto in material from 1806. The bulk of the composition work on the Sonata took place in 1807, and it was completed in 1808, the year that also saw the completion of the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, the Op. 70 Piano Trios (including the "Ghost" Trio), and the Choral Fantasy. The arrival of a fine cellist, Joseph Linke, in Vienna that year may have encouraged Beethoven to finish the Sonata. It probably had its first performance on March 5, 1809, at a benefit concert for the cellist Nikolaus Kraft, with Baroness Dorothea von Ertmann at the piano. The Sonata was published by Breitkopf and Härtel in Leipzig in April 1809 with a dedication to Baron Ignaz von Gleichenstein, who had helped Beethoven secure his 4000-florin annuity from a small consortium of noble patrons in Vienna (including the Archduke Rudolph, who was also Beethoven's pupil) in October of the previous year.

The Sonata opens with the cello alone executing the beginning of the first theme, something Beethoven had already done in his violin sonatas. When the piano enters, it is as an organic and necessary part of the exposition of the theme, a difference from the concerto-like alternation heard in Op. 5, No. 1. This organic relationship continues in the movement's lyrical, rhapsodic second theme, with the cello and piano interweaving, each gently decorating and elaborating the other's part.

The rhythmic sharpness and thematic brevity of the scherzo give it tremendous energy. The two instrumentalists toss material back and forth in the opening A section, and the contrasting but related B section relies on ostinato rhythms for its character.

A brief slip of an adagio comes between the scherzo and the finale and has corollaries in other works by Beethoven from this period, such as the "Waldstein" Piano Sonata. In its 18 bars, the movement creates a wholly individual atmosphere, one that is broadly lyrical and tinged with a sort of dignified sorrow. The sonata-form finale brings the Sonata to a spirited close.

-- John Mangum is the Philharmonic's Program Designer/Annotator.