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The history and premiere of the Sonata for Piano and Horn in F major, Op. 17 by L. van Beethoven

The Sonata for Piano and Horn in F major, Op. 17 by Ludwig van Beethoven is one of the composer’s most significant works, created during his “middle period” of composition. The piece was composed in 1800 and is the only piano sonata by Beethoven in which the composer utilized the horn as a solo instrument.

Beethoven was one of the first composers to decide to write a piece for this unusual instrument duo. The horn, also known as the French Horn or simply Horn, is a brass instrument with a distinctive sound that blends perfectly with the piano. In Sonata Op. 17, Beethoven treated the horn as an equal partner to the piano, which was an innovative approach to chamber music at the time.

The sonata consists of three movements: Allegro moderato, Poco adagio, and Rondo – Allegro moderato. The first movement begins with an energetic theme developed by both instruments. The horn demonstrates its technical abilities by playing melodic lines in dialogue with the piano. The second movement, Poco adagio, is a calm and contemplative piece where the horn player showcases sensitivity and expressiveness, producing beautiful and melancholic sounds from the instrument. The final movement, Rondo – Allegro moderato, is a dynamic conclusion to the sonata, with both instruments competing and creating an energetic and joyful ending.

Johann Wenzel Stich / Jan Václav Stich / Giovanni Punto (1746 – 1803)

Johann Wenzel Stich, also known as Jan Václav Stich vel Giovanni Punto, was one of the most outstanding horn players of his time. Born in 1746 in Bechyně, Czech Republic, he passed away in Vienna in 1803. His musical talent was recognized early on, leading to his training under exceptional teachers.

Punto quickly gained recognition as a virtuoso horn player, an instrument that was not as popular at the time as it is today. His playing was highly expressive and emotional, capturing the attention of audiences and critics. His technique was flawless, and the sound of his instrument was extremely pure and clear.

As a court musician, Punto traveled throughout Europe, giving concerts and performing for the most important figures of his time. His repertoire included classical works as well as new compositions written specifically for him. His interpretations were always passionate and engaging, making his concerts unforgettable.

Punto was also a respected composer, writing many pieces for solo horn and chamber music. His music was full of melodies and harmonies, while also being technically demanding, requiring only the best horn players to perform it.

His contribution to the development of horn playing technique was significant, introducing many innovations and creative solutions. His teaching methods were highly effective, and many of his students found success on the international music stage.

Giovanni Punto remains one of the most important figures in the history of the horn to this day, serving as a role model for many contemporary musicians. His music is still played and appreciated by enthusiasts of the instrument worldwide. His musical legacy remains incredibly important and inspiring for future generations of horn players.

History of the creation of the Sonata for Piano and Horn in F major, Op. 17 by Ludwig van Beethoven

When Giovanni Punto came to Vienna during an artistic tour through Europe, the young Ludwig van Beethoven, who was known more for his virtuoso piano playing than for his symphonic compositions, played chamber music together with the most famous musicians of his time in many noble houses.

Vienna, Kärntnertor-Theater

Punto announced a concert at the Kärntnertor Theater for April 18, 1800. He organized this concert (all proceeds naturally belonged to him) and asked Beethoven to write a sonata for horn and piano for this occasion.

Beethoven agreed, and his student and later biographer Ferdinand Ries wrote about its creation as follows:

Ferdinand Ries (1784 – 1838)

“…Beethoven almost always postponed the composition of most works he was supposed to create in a certain period until the last moment. So he promised the famous horn virtuoso Punto to compose a sonata (Op. 17) for piano and horn and also to play it at his concert; the concert with the sonata was announced, but the sonata had not even been started. One day before the performance, Beethoven began working, and on the day of the concert, the sonata was already finished.”

Even if we do not take this story literally, it is evidence that the sonata was quickly created and no sketches were found for it.

Carl Czerny (1791 – 1857)

If we believe Beethoven’s student Carl Czerny, Punto significantly helped the composer in determining what types of passages and articulation he could use.

According to a preserved poster, the concert began with a symphony by Joseph Haydn, followed by an aria by Ferdinand Paër, a horn concerto by Punto himself, an overture La chasse du Jeune Henri by Étienne-Nicolas Méhul, a clarinet concerto by Antonio Casimir Cartellieri, and another aria by Paër. Only then, almost as a finale, “a completely newly composed sonata, played by Mr. Ludwig van Beethoven, accompanied on the horn by Mr. Punto” sounded. An inaccurate “final symphony” was planned for the conclusion.

A correspondent of the Wiener Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung reported that the piece was so well received that Punto had to play it again immediately:

“…The famous and probably currently greatest horn player in the world, Mr. Punto (a native Czech, his real name is Stich), is currently in Vienna. Recently, he held a music academy, where the sonata for piano and horn composed by Beethoven and played by him and Punto was so well received that despite a new theater regulation prohibiting repetitions and loud applause in the court theater, the artists were forced to start and repeat the piece again due to the loud applause.”

Beethoven and Punto performed this work publicly two more times: on May 7, 1800 in Buda and on January 30, 1801 in Vienna during a benefit concert in the grand hall Redoutensaal in the Hofburg.

Op. 17 Sonata is an excellent example of Beethoven’s compositional genius, which understood how to utilize the potential of each instrument to create a musical masterpiece. The work is not only technically demanding for the performers, but also full of emotions and deep expression, making it one of the most respected chamber music pieces in the music repertoire.

International Horn Masterclass 2024 at the Music Academy in Łódź

During the horn masterclass at the Music Academy in Łódź from July 7 to 12, 2024, we will focus on Beethoven’s Sonata and many other aspects of horn art.

For this year’s edition of the horn masterclass, we have managed to secure great instructors – including Peter Arnold, Tomasz Bińkowski, Monika Paprocka-Całus, and David Bagoly. The wonderful pianist Joanna Kowalewska will accompany us on the piano.

Do not hesitate and sign up now!! #WKM2024 is an excellent opportunity to improve your skills and meet new people with a passion for music and horn. To register for the course, simply visit my website, where the registration form and further information about the event are available.

Here is the link:

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