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York Festival of Ideas Infinite Horizons


June 11th 2020  7:30pm
Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall
York Chamber Music Festival presents:

‘Beethoven and the Cello – reaching for the cosmos’


Tim Lowe (cello)
and John Paul Ekins (piano)

Seven Variations for Piano and Cello on ‘Bei männern, welche liebe fühlen’

from Mozart’s opera ‘The Magic Flute’, Wo0 46

Sonata for cello and piano in G minor, Op. 5

Sonata for cello and piano D Major, Op.102.

From the start of his career Beethoven’s music was creatively explosive and changed how music was conceived, how it was thought about and revolutionised its expressive potential. 250 years after his birth his impact is still very much alive. His five iconic cello sonatas show how Beethoven pushed everything to the edge; instruments, players and himself to create music that wells up from his very soul.


In this event there is an introductory talk by Stuart Lowe and John Paul Ekins followed by performances of two of his cello sonatas and a set of variations played by two of the leading chamber musicians in the UK.


Cellos were ‘invented’ in the early eighteenth century so that they came into the hands and to the ears of Beethoven at a point in time when they were fully formed as an instrument, small enough and agile in the hands of a new group of virtuoso players - powerfully expressive and acoustically penetrating as music emerged from the aristocratic courts into more public spaces; bigger venues and much larger audiences.


Beethoven’s immediate predecessors Mozart and the much longer-lived Haydn both used the cello prominently in their string quartets, Haydn especially forging ahead gave the cello an equality of voice with the violins and viola. Neither Mozart or Haydn wrote cello sonatas although Haydn’s remarkable D Major cello concerto of 1783 was a statement of the potential of the cello as a solo instruments in the hands of virtuosi players. So what was on Beethoven’s mind when visiting Berlin in 1786 he sat down to sketch out the first of his five cello sonatas? He had studied briefly with Haydn. Beethoven pushed string playing technique to the point where his music was well-nigh impossible for any but the top players. His creative process was not lacking in humility! Indeed for many years string playing technique lagged behind Beethoven’s demands. In Berlin he found a virtuoso cellist, the famous Berlin court orchestra cellist Jean-Louis Duport and it was due to their friendship that Beethoven wrote his two Op. 5 Cello Sonatas.


The capricious twenty-something Beethoven was creatively explosive and in his first two cello sonatas in effect invented a new genre in which the expressive potential of the cello was released for the first time, breaking from the baroque conventions which gave the keyboard instrument the dominant voice. So on his visit to Berlin in 1786 the opportunity to put the relatively new pianoforte and the ‘modern’ cello with its tonal range, colours and sheer volume together sparked the young genius to create ground breaking music.


In his last two cello sonatas written as he entered what has become known as his ‘late’ period – when he was totally deaf – Beethoven seems to have stripped things down to their bare essentials – terse, almost beyond aesthetic ‘beauty’, yet inhabiting a sound world that is free and boundless. They are still rooted in his humanity  but In these two ‘late’ sonatas he seems to be reaching out to the cosmos - straining to touch the stars and awestruck in what he sensed lay beyond the visible form. Infinite Horizons.

2020 York Chamber Music Festival
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