David J. Golby
Volume 74, Summer 2018
Sonata in D major op. 20, for violin and piano
ed. Martin Harlow
Edition HH, HH423.FSP, Launton, 2017 (pbk, £18.50)
ISMN 979 0 708146 24 7
The music of Anton Eberl (1765-1807), the prodigious Austrian pianist and composer, forms part of Edition HH’s @Beethoven Series. Like Boismortier, Eberl is being championed in a very fine partnership between Edition HH and editor, Martin Harlow, which has extended across a number of important but hitherto neglected works, either for solo keyboard or for keyboard and strings. So far, three out of seven extant violin sonatas have been issued, and the op. 20 Sonata in D major is the chronological sixth. Published in Vienna in 1803, towards the end of his life, it was dedicated to Dorothea Ertmann, a pupil of Beethoven and a renowned exponent and dedicatee of his and other works.
If there is some doubt surrounding whether or not Eberl was a pupil of Mozart, it is certain that he mixed in the most illustrious musical and social circles and that his works were of sufficient quality to have been misattributed to his older compatriot and friend, during his lifetime and also much later (such as his piano sonata in C minor, published as his op. 1 in 1798). Eberl is known to have been active and influential in Russia, particularly in St Petersburg, and was also a champion of his contemporaries’ works. In Vienna he was considered the equal of and frequently mentioned in the same breath as Beethoven (it is often cited that, of the two E flat symphonies performed at the première of the ‘Eroica’, Eberl’s was judged to be superior).
So, how well do these remarkable claims hold up over two centuries later? Well, as far as I am concerned, alongside the piano sonatas (particularly the forward-thinking Sonata in G minor op. 39), this work for violin and piano certainly entitles Eberl to be considered alongside Beethoven and their most gifted contemporaries. He joins Beethoven in occupying that crucial transitional phase between Classical and Romantic idioms and he added impetus to the stylistic developments that Beethoven brought to fruition. Indeed, the Introduction to the op. 20 Sonata in D includes a fascinating contemporary review which encapsulates a resistance to the ‘new’ way of doing things and a hankering for the days when Eberl’s works were misattributed to Mozart.
Eberl was clearly ahead of the critical curve with respect to the number and complexity of ideas that he was prepared to incorporate into the works that he composed during this period. To my modern ears, I am struck by the fresh, vital invention to be found here, complemented by an abundance of appealing subtleties and a gift for melody. These ingredients all go towards making this music extremely enjoyable to play. The interplay and antiphonal exchanges between violin and keyboard further enhance the experience for both performer and listener.
There are numerous interesting touches, such as the structurally significant calando passages in the first movement Allegro vivace, which features a development section that launches into the relative minor in dramatic fashion, and the short written-out ‘cadenza’ flourishes in the suitably quirky Vivace Rondo. Eberl’s writing is not without challenges for the violin, but there are also plenty of opportunities for the pianist to demonstrate dexterity. The sonata combines a very appealing blend of Classical traits with more individual and innovative fingerprints, especially in its harmony. It is tempting to speculate about where this pioneering spirit would have taken him if Eberl had lived further into the nineteenth century. As it is, there remain many fine compositions by Eberl for Edition HH to select from, particularly for piano, which offer quality as well as quantity.
All the usual Edition HH strengths are in evidence in terms of clarity and usability. Harlow’s Introduction and ‘Editorial Method & Notes on Performance’ are very helpful and the Textual Notes at the end of the piano part offer further detailed insights. There is a facsimile of a likeness of the composer (from a painting by Jagemann, engraved by Rahl) and of the frontispiece to the original edition, which is the principal source for this edition. This excellent edition will hopefully play a part in helping to move Eberl from the footnotes into the main text when we discuss the development of genre and style, and also make a case for the far more regular presence of his music on concert programmes and in the recording studio.
I have often said, in connection with the output of Edition HH in particular, that music of this quality deserves to be revived. However, here I would go as far to say that this piece needs to be programmed and is sure to bring enjoyment to audiences and performers alike. I certainly intend to use this edition and to spread the word of the value of Eberl’s works at every available opportunity. David J Golby
We are grateful to theThe Consort for permission to reproduce this review.