Listening to Beethoven #43 – Rondino in E flat major


The Lobkowitzplatz, Vienna by Bernardo Bellotto (18th century)

Rondino in E flat major WoO 25 for wind octet (2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 horns and 2 bassoons) (1793, Beethoven aged 22)

Dedication
Duration 6’30”

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

The Rondino is thought to have been written around the same time as the Octet for wind Op.103, and may even be a discarded movement from it, given that it shares the same key (E flat major), instrumentation and composition period (either very late in the Bonn period or 1793).

It is for a pair each of oboes, clarinets, horns and bassoons, with the horn writing in particular coming in for special mention. Martin Harlow, writing in the booklet notes for the Albion Ensemble’s recording on Hyperion, describes the Rondino as ‘a marvellously economical work whose brevity belies the intensity of invention contained within’.

The Unheard Beethoven website’s entry for the work notes its close relationship to Mozart’s Serenades, ‘at one level with his masterpiece for the same instruments’ and sharing the same instrumentation. The conclusion is that the Rondino is an ‘amazing, early masterpiece’.

Thoughts

How lovely it is to hear the sonorities of a wind ensemble in the Beethoven listening. This is a lovely piece, the strong implication being that the composer has already mastered writing for such a group but this is the first we properly hear of it.

The title (given by the publisher after Beethoven’s death, possibly) conjures up ideas of a light, frivolous piece, but in the event this Rondino is a tender affair. Its main theme is an attractive one, and lingers in the memory, but the middle sections are elegiac and quite sorrowful, moving as they do through minor keys.

The colours are beautiful, the use of horns particularly masterful – Beethoven seemingly one of the first to use mutes on the instrument as a form of expression. It may be small, but this is a perfectly formed and rather gorgeous piece.

Recordings used

Netherlands Wind Ensemble (Deutsche Grammophon)
L’Archibudelli (Sony Vivarte)
Sabine Meyer Bläserensemble (Warner Classics)
The Albion Ensemble (Helios)

Four fine versions here. The L’Archibudelli version – on instruments of the period – feels slightly woolly with its recorded sound to begin with, before the ensemble passages blossom. It is taken at a slower tempo than the other versions. Both the Sabine Meyer Bläserensemble and The Albion Ensemble are notable for their affection for the piece.

Spotify links

L’Archibudelli

Netherlands Wind Ensemble

Sabine Meyer Bläserensemble

You can chart the Arcana Beethoven playlist as it grows, with one recommended version of each piece we listen to. Catch up here!

Also written in 1793 Haydn Andante with variations in F minor HXVII:6(

Next upOctet in E flat major Op.103

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