Listening to Beethoven #96 – Wind Quintet in E flat major


Vienna, Panorama from Palais Kaunitz by Bernardo Bellotto (1759)

Quintet in E flat major Hess 19 for 3 horns, oboe and 2 bassoons (1796, Beethoven aged 25)

1. Allegro
2. Adagio maestoso
3. Minuetto

Dedication unknown
Duration 15′

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

Beethoven’s preoccupation with wind instruments continues with this incomplete quintet, written for the unusual combination of three horns, oboe and bassoon. The unfinished work sits in three movements, the bones of which were seemingly sketched out in 1796 or 1797. The first movement autograph score begins at bar 158, the second movement is complete but only a fragment of the third, a Minuet, remains.

Keith Anderson, writing in the booklet notes for Naxos’ recording of the Quintet, details how the first movement was reconstructed by Leopold Zellner and first played in 1862, while the celebrated Beethoven scholar Willy Hess edited the work for publication. In its surviving form it is top heavy, with a first movement more than double the length of the second and third combined.

Thoughts

We are once again in E flat major, Beethoven’s ‘key of choice’ for wind instruments – and his most-used up until now. The colouring is slightly different here though, the full-bodied horns dominating in a largely mellow texture, until the oboe pokes its head above the parapet. The melodic material is less distinctive than the preceding Sextet but is pleasant all the same.

The slow movement stays in the ‘home’ key and again has lovely sonorities but feels lacking in the craft a finished version from the composer would surely have brought. A perky Minuetto tails off all too soon.

Recording and Spotify link

Jeno Keveházi, János Keveházi, Sándor Berki (horns), Ottó Rácz (oboe), Jozsef Vajda (bassoon)

A nicely balanced account from the Hungarian soloists, recorded by Naxos in Budapest in 1994.

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 1796 Boieldieu Duo no.2 in B flat major for harp and piano

Next up Erlkönig

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