Background to the Sonata for Piano and Violin Op12 No2

Beethoven went to live in Vienna live when he was 22 in 1792, a year after the death of Mozart.  In that year, Emperor Franz II was elected Holy Roman Emperor and Revolutionary France “liberated” part of the Austrian Empire at the battle of Valmy.[1] [2]  Beethoven had been invited to study with Haydn (expenses paid by the district Elector at Bonn[3] who was Franz II’s uncle), and had a reference from a well-known aristocrat Count Waldstein, who believed that the genius of Mozart had found a new home in Beethoven.[4]  Beethoven was also known to be a brilliant pianist employed in Bonn by the uncle of the Emperor.[5] [6] 

At the time, wealthy patrons were competing with each other to be associated with top musicians (just as politicians in Australia like to be photographed with top sportsmen).  The Viennese aristocracy would have been nervous of the French Revolution and nostalgic for the stability and rich musical life of the time of Mozart and Emperor Joseph II.  Not long after arriving in Vienna, Beethoven was invited to live in the house of Prince Lichnowski, where he was treated as one of the family (this was a step up from being treated like a servant, but caused Beethoven some stress, because he was also fiercely independent and resented having to go to dinner at a fixed hour – nevertheless he regarded Prince Lichnowski as one of his best friends and was later to received an annuity from him).  By 1795 Beethoven had established a reputation as a composer as well as a pianist; and by 1799, when he wrote the Sonata for Piano and Violin Op12 No2 in A Major, which you will hear today, his music was being circulated by five publishers.[7]  Note that the famous “Pathetique” Sonata for Solo Piano Op13 was published in that year. 

In the sonatas up to Mozart’s time, the keyboard was usually considered the most important part, that the melody instrument was used as a continuo to complement the keyboard sound.  Mozart mostly and Beethoven always gave equal importance to the piano and violin parts. 

Some of the first performances of the Op12 sonatas were by aristocratic amateurs in salons.  At that time Beethoven’s only concerts for the general public had been to raise funds for charity.  A year later he began giving public concerts as a source of his own income.[8] 

Lockwood writes that Sonata No 2 “combines a brilliant first movement with a bleak but expressive A-minor Andante, closing with a full-bodied Allegro piacevole”.  He suggests that the first movement shows Beethoven’s facility in forming the opening theme from arpeggiated repetitions of a simple two-note figure.  “One instrument holds the harmonic rudder steady while the other traverses a defined harmonic space against it” [referring to the descending two-note figure].  New figures and patterns emerge as contrast to the opening and, in the coda, both instruments pass the two-note figure to each other forming the movement’s climax.[9] 

I heard a fragment of the second movement on ABC FM played by Fritz Kreisler and was so taken with it that I decided to learn it.  The final Allegro piacevole (meaning lively and agreeable) is also playful and witty.  In this sonata Beethoven is at his most charming, and I hope that some of this enchantment is conveyed to you today. 

[1]  Valmy was the first example of bloodshed in the name of democracy. 


[3] ibid


[5] Solomon M  Beethoven  Schirmer 1977.


[7] Solomon Op Cit.


[9] Lockwood L  Beethoven: the music and the life  Norton 2002.