Program Notes by Kevin Forfar

Beethoven (1770-1827) – Horn Sonata, op. 17

Ludwig van Beethoven’s Horn Sonata, op. 17 was composed in 1800 and was first premiered on April 18th, 1800 at the Burgtheater in Vienna. For this premiere, Beethoven played piano while the horn part was performed by the internationally renowned horn player, Giovanni Punto (1746 – 1803). Punto was a Czech musician who traveled to Dresden to study under Anton Joseph Hampel. From Hampel, Punto learned the hand-stopping technique which allowed the natural horn to play previously unplayable chromatic notes. This was a groundbreaking advancement in horn playing technique, allowing the instrument to play highly virtuosic solo works even before the invention of the valve horn over a decade later. Punto helped pioneer this technique, inspiring composers to create works for the horn which utilized this technique. While on tour, Punto met with Beethoven in Vienna and this hand-stopping technique inspired Beethoven to compose his Horn Sonata, op. 17. This was the only horn sonata that Beethoven wrote.

This work was composed towards the end of Beethoven’s middle period and is characteristic of the late classical style. It consists of three movements. The first movement is a straight-forward sonata-allegro movement, energetic in character. The second movement is a short interlude which contrasts the other movements in character. This interlude transitions directly into the third movement – much like the middle movement of Beethoven’s Waldstein sonata, composed a few years later. The final movement is in rondo form with the scheme ABACADA, concluding with a short coda.

Beethoven was quite productive during this period of his life. Shortly before the premiere of his horn sonata, he had his first benefit concert on April 2nd which included the premiere of his first symphony. At this time Beethoven was already recognized as Vienna’s greatest piano virtuoso and improviser. However, he was not well known outside of Austria. When he performed the horn sonata the following month with Punto in Pest, Hungary, a critic remarked, “Who is this Beethoven? His name is not known to us. Of course, Punto is very well known.”

The various arrangements of Beethoven’s horn sonata attest to its popularity. It has been arranged for cello, flute, and violin. The arrangement for cello appeared in Beethoven’s lifetime. This particular arrangement is unlikely to have been created by Beethoven himself, but since it was distributed by his publisher it seems to of had his approval. It is likely that this arrangement was created in order to make this work more accessible to amateur players, as only highly skilled horn players were capable of performing the original composition.

Corigliano (b. 1938) – Sonata for Violin and Piano
John Corigliano is an American composer best known for his work in films such as Altered States (1980) and The Red Violin (1998). His most well known works include his opera, The Ghosts of Versailles (1991), his clarinet concerto (1977), and his Symphony no. 2 (2000). Throughout his career, he has earned five Grammy Awards, the Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition, an Oscar, and a Pulitzer Prize. Corigliano is currently on staff in the composition department at the Juilliard School of Music.

The following are the composer’s own program notes for his Sonata for Violin and Piano:

The Sonata for Violin and Piano, written during 1962-63, is for the most part a tonal work, although it incorporates non-tonal and poly-tonal sections within it as well as other 20th century harmonic, rhythmic and constructional techniques. The listener will recognize the work as a product of an American writer, although this is more the result of an American writing music than writing ‘American’ music — a second-nature, unconscious action on my part.

Rhythmically, the work is extremely varied. Meters change in almost every measure, and independent rhythmic patterns in each instrument are common. The Violin Sonata was originally entitled Duo, and therefore obviously treats both instruments as co-partners. Virtuosity is of great importance in adding color and energy to the work which is basically an optimistic statement, but the virtuosity is always motivated by musical means.

To cite an example: the last movement rondo includes in it a virtuosic polyrhythmic and polytonal perpetual motion whose thematic material and accompaniment figures are composed of three distinct elements derived from materials stated in the beginning of the movement. The 16th-note perpetual motion theme is originally a counterpoint to the movement’s initial theme. Against this are set two figures – an augmentation of the movement’s primary theme and, in combination with that, a 5/8 rhythmic ostinato utilized originally to accompany a totally different earlier passage. All three elements combine to form a new virtuoso perpetual motion theme which is, of course, subjected to further development and elaboration.
— John Corigliano