Just like Johann Sebastian Bach before him, Ludwig van Beethoven played a significant role in the development of the cello. His five Sonatas for cello and piano, three cycles of Variations and the Triple Concerto all enhanced the instrument's expressive scope to an extent that has not been surpassed to date. With his unparalleled ability to endow the instrument with highly lyrical and elegantly cantabile qualities, he blazed the trail for composers who would follow him.
Therefore, in what way and to what extent did Beethoven's last Sonata, the fully composed and visionary op. 102/2, influence Johannes Brahms and Richard Strauss, two composers with such very different and idiosyncratic styles?
This collection takes listeners on a journey through German Romantic music, giving due prominence to the strength of tradition, the power of originality, and the driving force of innovation.
In his final Sonata for cello and piano, Beethoven completely disrupts the genre, appearing to speak to future generations. Indeed, when he saw the incomprehension with which his contemporaries greeted the work, his response was: « Eventually, they’ll understand ». The experience of the four preceding Sonatas would have been needed in order for the fifth one, which has a rare density, to achieve the perfect balance between the two instruments and allow the cello to develop its expressive capabilities. This fifth Sonata ends with a majestic, visionary fugue which went on to inspire future generations.
While Beethoven was looking to the future, Brahms liked to turn towards maestros gone by. He greatly admired Bach and Beethoven, whose legacies were for him an enormous source of inspiration. A good example of this is his Sonata in E minor, with its central movement was inspired by the minuet – a musical form from the past. Furthermore, its finale contains a fugue every bit as imposing as that of Beethoven's opus 102/2. Despite elements clearly borrowed from the past, Brahms showed his originality by stylising these earlier forms and adding his own personal touches.
Strauss grew up in adoration of Beethoven and Brahms, and the influence of these two maestros was evident when he composed his Sonata for Cello and Piano, particularly in the numerous fugue-style sections which punctuate the work's three movements and give it a slightly conservative character. However, this overlooks the many lyrical flourishes that herald the arrival of the mature Strauss. Despite his very young age and devoted admiration for Beethoven and Brahms, Strauss had already found his path: one that would lead him to the originality and modernity of Elektra before bringing him back to more conservative pastures.