Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No.26 in E Flat Major Op.81a.'Les Adieux'
Archduke Rudolph of Austria was Beethoven's friend, pupil and patron from 1804 until the composer's death in 1827, and he was the dedicatee of 'Fidelio', the 'Missa Solemnis', the last two piano concertos, and the last piano sonata, violin sonata and piano trio. It was also for him that Beethoven composed this sonata,'Les Adieux', when, during the French siege of Vienna in May 1809, the young Rudolf and his family were compelled to flee the city.
The original edition bore the title, "Lebewohl, Abwesenheit und Wiedersehen" ("Farewell, Absence and Reunion"), and it seems that Beethoven wrote the three movements at appropriate intervals during the year 1809; the first when Rudoloh actually left Vienna on 4 May, the second during the course of the next five or six months, and the third on Rudolph's return after the signing of the piece treaty on 14 October.
The first movement (headed "Das Lebewohl - Les Adieux") begins with a short introductory Adagio whose initial descending phrase (above which Beethoven himself wrote the word "Leb-e-wohl") is to act as a recurring motto throughout the impassioned sonata-form Allegro itself.
The C Minor slow movement - Andante espressivo - (Die Abwesenheit), which is dominated by the rhythmic figure of its first bar, is fervent in its expression of sadness and deprivation, although in actual extent it is not much longer than the intermediate Molto adagio that separated the first and last movements of the "Waldstein" sonata Op.53. As there, it leads straight into the Finale ("Das Wiedersehen"), an exuberant movement, again in sonata form, and full of the joy experienced in meeting a cherished friend again after a long separation - though with a moment of thoughtful reflection just before the end.
(c) Robin Golding