Beethoven’s Milanese mandolin, as hung near the piano at his home
Sonatina in C major for mandolin and piano, WoO 44a (1796, Beethoven aged 25)
Dedication Josephine de Clary
Background and Critical Reception
Here is a lesser known corner of Beethoven’s output – the works for mandolin and piano. They have their origins in Beethoven’s travels from Vienna in 1796, and in particular his stayover in Prague, but it is thought the roots for Beethoven’s association with the instrument extend back to Vienna a year earlier when he met Wenzel Krumpholz, who played both violin and mandolin.
Their meeting is said to have taken place around the publication of the Op.1 piano trios, and ultimately yielded a Sonatina and an Adagio, of which more in the near future. This particular Sonatina – also with a complementary Adagio to come – are thought to have been written in the Czech capital for Josephine de Clary. More on her in the next article!
This is a whole new sound world for the Beethoven listening, and it proves to be rather invigorating. The musical language is relatively simple for the piano, letting the mandolin run free with a faintly humourous tune. Perhaps inevitably Beethoven cannot resist a central section of minor key bravado, the music taking a relatively stormy direction before realising its ‘mistake’, returning to the good-natured main theme.
The Sonatina is short but rather quaint, and is guaranteed to raise a smile from its audience.
Recordings used and Spotify links
Anna Torge (mandolin) and Gerald Hambitzer (fortepiano)
Alon Sariel (mandolin) and Michael Tsalka (fortepiano)
Julien Martineau (mandolin) and Vanessa Benelli Mosell (piano)
Anna Torge and Gerald Hambitzer give a bright account, the fortepiano’s friendly tones complementing the nicely phrased mandolin. Alon Sariel and Michael Tsalka are also good if a little sharp-edged with the recorded sound.
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 Gyrowetz – String Quartet in D major Op.13/1
Next up Abschiedsgesang an Wiens Bürger