Piano Bulletin (EPTA)


J.B. Cramer
3 Sonates opus 23

Among pianists the London composer J.B. Cramer is mainly known for his etudes, which almost everyone has studied. These etudes already show that Cramer was a very skilled composer, who could also write creatively and melodiously within the straitjacket of the etude. In addition to his etides, the composer, originally from Germany, left behind an important and very extensive oevre (117 sonatas) for piano that has remained relatively unknown. Apparently he was too much in the shadow of his brilliant contemporaries Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven.

Van Sambeek Editions published a beautifully edited edition of the 3 Sonatas opus 23, dedicated to Joseph Haydn. After playing through these three compositions, I had the impression that this music has been unfairly overshadowed by the sonatas of Cramer’s Viennese contemporaries, although the fact remains that the composer cannot be considered among the top. That does not alter the fact that they are well written works. Attractive in form, melody and dramatic structure. Certainly on the instrument for which they were intended, the English grand piano from around 1800, they have the necessary expressiveness. It is interesting that Cramer had his own unique style, which is partly conservative but partly also anticipates Romanticism. Curious, for example, is the first movement of the third Sonata, which on the one hand is strongly reminiscent of Mozart’s A minor sonata (KV 310), but which at the same time seems to point ahead to Schumann. Also worth mentioning is the second sonata in C: the first movement of which is very similar in form and expression to Beethoven’s Sonata Pathétique. Cramer also starts with a slow opening section (Largo assai), which has a lot of pathos, although here the key is C major. But then he continues in the Allegro agitato in C minor. Here it looks a lot like Beethoven with the octaves in the left hand. It is known that Beethoven admired Cramer. However, the question is whether there is plagiarism or influence. Both pieces date from exactly the same year, 1799. But it could also be a coincidence that the compositions are so similar. However, the relationship ends with the second part, which is a pastoral Allegretto.

It is an excellent initiative that Van Sambeek Editions has made these sonatas accessible in a beautiful, annotated edition with detailed explanations about the composer. The landscape format is the same as that of the original edition, but Van Sambeek has re-set the notes.

Christo Lelie