Beethoven Cello Sonata

Beethoven Cello Sonata No. 4 in C major Op. 102, No. 1
by Juliette Blais with assistance from Darya Bajestani


Written in 1815 alongside his D major sonata, this sonata begins in an entirely new world. It was composed right after Ludwig Van Beethoven’s triumphant middle period and was among his first works in his late period, a time by which he had already lost most of his hearing. This piece begins with a feeling of surreal peacefulness that is different from his previous works for cello such as his A major sonata and G minor sonata, which nevertheless do share some striking similarities to this work. As the cello presents the theme, the piano is not far behind. They begin a sort of ‘chase through the woods’ in which they closely follow each other until they both come to a standstill, but not long after, the chase begins again. This Andante has a floating, majestic quality that takes the listeners far away from their seats. The gentle push and pull with trills adds to the ever so slight intensity and dissonance unique to this movement.

The piece then takes a turn energetically into the turmoil, brooding, and eagerness present in the Allegro Vivace. It begins rapidly in A minor and includes different rhythm, tone, and textures. The piano and cello and slowly split apart, and the ‘chase’ style comes back to haunt us. Beethoven utilizes dynamics, accents and rhythm to help sustain the mood throughout the movement and engage the listener. At the end of the sonata, Beethoven gives the cello running notes with the melody in the piano and switches the roles abruptly. He brings back the melody from the very beginning and ends in the relative key of A minor to end this movement.

Beethoven once again transports his audience to another world with his Adagio. He uses syncopation in the cello to ‘roll out the carpet’ for the upcoming theme in the piano, and the slow scales act as passing bodies in whatever universe we may be in. Soon though, the movement takes a rather dark turn toward a more brooding, intense quiet that is subsequently halted. We now see our tender Beethoven emerge with a theme that sounds familiar, perhaps? It might be the exact theme from the opening, brought full circle in the piece and then repeated over and over again until the end of the movement.

After our journey, we put our feet not quite too firmly on the ground with the final and playful part to this piece: yet another Allegro Vivace. This frisk, lively movement seems almost dance-like with exciting rhythms and a variety of keys we happily journey through, even though they are not all major! He uses strange stops and starts to keep the audience at the edge of their seats, if they aren’t already. In his day, these must have sounded extremely strange, but today they reel the audience in. At the end, he writes a brilliant coda and ends it with material forewarning the ending theme in the 5th sonata, interestingly enough.