Ludwig van Beethoven’s five sonatas form a cornerstone of the cello repertoire. Of all the Viennese classics only he left behind him works in this genre.
From his childhood Beethoven had been surrounded by outstanding cellists. Back in the Kapelle in Bonn he had worked with a star of the future – Bernhard Romberg.
In 1796 Beethoven and Prince Lichnowsky set out from Vienna on a major journey. The final destination was Berlin, which was ruled by King Friedrich Wilhelm II who was also a cellist, and the Court musicians included the cellist brothers Jean-Pierre and Jean Louis Duport. Beethoven dedicated two Cello Sonatas, Op. 5, to the King and performed them at Court together with the younger brother Jean-Louis. In response, the monarch presented the composer with a gold snuff-box filled with Louis d’or coins – just as were given to ambassadors.
The Sonatas, Op. 5, were probably actually composed in Berlin taking into account the staggering performing abilities of the younger Duport. Beethoven was dealing with several aims at the same time: to reveal the refined manner of the cello in an advantageous light, to shine with his virtuoso skill on the piano and original composition style but also not to tire his august listener too much. He succeeded on every point.
The Cello Sonata Op. 69 was composed at the same time as the Fifth Symphony. It was composed in 1807 in Heiligenstadt. For a piece of chamber music the work is on an unusually large scale and rich in musical events. It opens with a cello solo in a low register and contains several cadenzas for both instruments. Beethoven dedicated the sonata to his close friend, the amateur cellist Baron Ignaz von Gleichenstein, together with whom he wooed the Malfatti sisters at the same time: the baron successfully, the composer with no success whatsoever. The first performer of the work was Nikolaus Kraft.
The two Sonatas, Op. 102, were composed in the autumn of 1815. When they appeared they caused a small revolution: because of the complexity of the ensemble, the publisher had to print the sonatas not as individual instrumental parts but as a score. The sonatas are dedicated to the amateur pianist Countess Maria Erdödy. The part for the cello was written for Josef Linke, a member of the Schuppanzigh Quartet, who was famed for its ability to perform Beethoven’s late works when everyone else regarded them as something incredibly strange.