Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” sonata for piano and violin is legendary for its difficulty: more than 40 minutes long, with excruciatingly difficult opening chords for the violin and a headlong tarantella for the final movement. But that won’t stop Seattle pianist Robin McCabe and violinist Maria Larionoff from playing the work, as well as Beethoven’s two other last sonatas for piano and violin, in their final “Beethoven Project” concert Sunday at the Tahoma Unitarian Universalist Congregation sanctuary.
Composed between 1789-1812, Beethoven’s 10 sonatas for piano and violin broke the traditional solo sonata mold by giving each instrument equal weight. Rather than just an accompaniment to the violin, the piano has equal share of theme and structure, making each sonata a true partnership.
The “Kreutzer” was premiered in 1803 by Beethoven himself on piano and George Bridgetower, who sight-read the violin part as there was no time to practice before the 8 a.m. concert. The story goes that when the men were later drinking together, Bridgetower insulted the honor of one of Beethoven’s female friends. The composer then changed the piece’s dedication to Rudolphe Kreutzer, the best violinist of the day — who refused ever to play the piece as he found Beethoven’s work “unintelligible.” The work (and the backstory) later inspired a novella by Tolstoy, a painting by René Francois Xavier Prinet, a string quartet by Janácek, a narrative poem by U.S. laureate Rita Dove and several films.
McCabe and Larionoff, both established soloists and teachers, have been performing as a duo for five years at venues such as the University of Washington and Benaroya Hall. Originally from Puyallup, McCabe studied and taught at the Juilliard School of Music in New York before returning to direct the School of Music at the University of Washington, where she continues on the faculty. Larionoff, also a Juilliard graduate, was concertmaster of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra. Their “Beethoven Project” has presented all 10 of the Beethoven sonatas in concert.