The Sonatas for cello and piano No. 4 in C major, Op. 102, No. 1, and No. 5 in D major, Op. 102, No. 2, by Ludwig van Beethoven were composed simultaneously in 1815 and published in 1817 with a dedication to the Countess Marie von Erdődy (de), a close friend and confidante of Beethoven's.
The sonatas were composed between the end of 1812 and 1817, during which time Beethoven, ailing and overcome by all sorts of difficulties, experienced a period of literal and figurative silence as his deafness became overwhelmingly profound and his productivity diminished. Following seven years after the A Major Sonata No. 3, the complexity of their composition and their visionary character marks (with the immediately preceding piano sonata Op 101) the start of Beethoven’s `third period’.
The critics of the time, often perplexed by Beethoven’s last compositions, described the sonatas in terms such as the following from the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung:
They elicit the most unexpected and unusual reactions, not only by their form but by the use of the piano as well…We have never been able to warm up to the two sonatas; but these compositions are perhaps a necessary link in the chain of Beethoven's works in order to lead us there where the steady hand of the maestro wanted to lead us.
Although played less often than Sonata No. 3, Sonatas Nos. 4 and 5 are now essential elements in the basic repertory of works for cello and piano.
Sonata No. 4, Op. 102, No. 1
This sonata consists of two movements:
- Andante – Allegro vivace
- Adagio – Tempo d'andante – Allegro vivace
This short, almost enigmatic work demonstrates in concentrated form how Beethoven was becoming ready to challenge and even subvert the sonata structures he inherited from composers such as Haydn and Mozart.
Its overall structure is possibly unique in Beethoven's works, comprising just a pair of fast sonata-form movements, each with a slow introduction.
Both movements recall the long-established convention of a slow introduction to a brisk main section in sonata form, but with significant modifications.
In the first movement the introductory portion entirely lacks the portentousness of a conventional slow introduction, consisting of a brief elegiac theme repeated several times without change of key and largely unvaried; it concludes with an elaborate cadence in C major that is then contradicted by the sonata portion being in the relative minor, largely avoiding the key of C major except at the opening of the development.
The second movement opens more in the manner of a traditional slow introduction, and eventually leads to a sonata-form portion in the 'correct' key of C. However, before this point is reached, the opening material of the sonata reappears for a final, almost ecstatic variation; a procedure paralleled elsewhere in Beethoven's work only in the drama of the fifth and ninth symphonies.