Midway through this Beethoven year - the 250th anniversary of the composer's birth falls in December - there's news of an initiative on the part of two eminent Irish musicians to shine a spotlight on one distinctive area of his work.
ohn O'Conor, world renowned as a Beethoven specialist - described by the Washington Post as "a pianist with the kind of flawless touch that makes an audience gasp" - and international concert cellist and composer Ailbhe McDonagh are teaming up in August to record his five cello sonatas.
Music specifically for the cello wasn't on Beethoven's agenda when he arrived in Vienna just before his 22nd birthday in 1792. He found a room with Prince Karl Lichnowsky, a local aristocrat and leading patron of the arts.
The prince proposed a concert tour that took Beethoven to Berlin, where he was introduced to the King of Prussia, no less. Friedrich Wilhelm II was mad into music, and happened to be a dab hand at the cello.
He had a top French virtuoso, Jean-Pierre Duport, as his director of chamber music. A younger brother, Jean-Louis, also a cellist, was there too, having fled the French Revolution to find a musical home in Berlin.
Though Bach had written a series of Suites specifically for the instrument that could be described as the alto of the string family - violin, viola, cello, and double bass - his music had been largely ignored since his death in 1750.
So when Beethoven took up the challenge of creating some cello music for the king, he was entering territory where no contemporary was setting foot.
He set to writing two sonatas for cello, with piano, which he dedicated to the monarch. Not only was this a new instrumental combination, it marked a new departure. In these pieces, for the first time, the two instruments were sharing the music. It wasn't simply a case of one accompanying the other.
That said, it was still a case of piano with cello. It was oremiered for the king, with one of the Duports playing cello and Beethoven himself at the keyboard. I'm sure that the pianist in him would have wanted the chance to shine.
Still, despite the fact that they are piano-heavy, these two sonatas rank as early examples of the use of the cello as an instrument in its own right.
Beethoven was just 25 and in good health when he wrote them. When he returned to the cello sonata some 10 years later, he was becoming profoundly deaf.
The No 3 is unquestionably a duo sonata, giving equal prominence to both instruments. It is as if Beethoven were inventing a new style of composition. This was the composer at the height of his powers. There are echoes of his Pastoral Symphony, written around the same time, in the long lyrical lines that emphasise the cello's range as the instrument often described as most closely resembling the human voice.
Sonatas 4 and 5 are different again, Written simultaneously in 1815, these two come at the start of what has become known as Beethoven's third period. Writing as music he could hear only in his own head, they are much shorter works, more experimental in nature, and packing a lot more in.
Ailbhe and John start rehearsals next week. They're aiming for a release date towards the end of this Beethoven anniversary year - just in time for Christmas.
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