Listening to Beethoven #45 – Oboe Concerto in F major, second movement


The Beethoven-Haus, Bonn Picture by Dr. Avishai Teicher

Oboe Concerto in F major (slow movement) Hess 12 (1792-3, Beethoven aged 22)

Dedication not known
Duration 7′

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

The Oboe Concerto is one of the works sent by Haydn to the Elector of Cologne, showing the progress of his pupil Beethoven since he started with him in Vienna. What he did not realise at the time was that most of the works, including the Octet previously heard, had already been written in Bonn and were all but complete.

Sadly only the slow movement of the concerto, in B flat major, has survived in full, and even then only in sketch form. There is an outline of melody from the beginning to the end, but the piece needed extensive revision for any performance to be possible. This came from a couple of sources, but the one finished by Charles Joseph Lehrer, and orchestrated by Willem, is the only one to be recorded so far.

Daniel Heartz, in his superb book Mozart, Haydn and Early Beethoven 1781-1802, writes that ‘incipits of the three movements survive on a sheet in the Beethoven Archive at Bonn. The two oboists in electoral service were Georg Libsich and Joseph Welsch. From them the young composer could have learned the instrument’s strengths and limitations. His experiences in Bonn, including playing in the court orchestra, endowed him with a fine feeling for the technical and timbral possibilities of all the instruments.’

Thoughts

This fragment is an intriguing listen, even with the knowledge that a good deal of this work is not by Beethoven himself. Initially the tone is serious but relaxes as the strings expand with a soft-voiced introduction, teeing up the oboe nicely.

The main melody is attractive, and soon the oboe is reaching into the upper end of its register, well above the strings. The soloist has plenty of opportunity to show off, especially in a cadenza towards the end, which is nicely cued up by some spicier harmony from the strings. After the cadenza a short statement of the tender theme is all that is required.

Recordings used

Bart Schneemann, Radio Chamber Orchestra / Jan Willem de Vriend (Channel Classics)

Bart Schneemann gives an excellent account, with Jan Willem de Vriend balancing the small Radio Chamber Orchestra nicely. The slow movement of the concerto is tagged on to a second volume of oboe concertos by the German 18th century composer oboist and composer Ludwig August Lebrun, who died three years before Beethoven’s concerto was sent back to Bonn.

Spotify links

Bart Schneemann, Radio Chamber Orchestra / Jan Willem de Vriend

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 3 String Quartets, Op.71

Next up Que le temps me dure (version 1)

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