Listening to Beethoven #104 – Andante con variazioni for mandolin and piano in D major WoO 44b


Joséphine de Clary, dedicatee of Beethoven’s music for mandolin and piano. Picture courtesy of the Austrian National Library.

Andante con variazioni in D major for mandolin and piano, WoO 44b (1796, Beethoven aged 25)

Dedication Joséphine de Clary
Duration 9′

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

Beethoven’s second work for mandolin and fortepiano was also intended for Joséphine de Clary, and is a quite substantial set of six variations on a theme of unknown origin. It can also be played – unarranged – for violin and piano, which would suit Wenzel Krumpholz, the mandolin and violin player with whom Beethoven struck up a friendship in Vienna.

The piece is clearly written for some fun to be had between two players in an informal setting, and comfortably achieves its aim.

Thoughts

The theme chugs along in a friendly mood but there are hints of trouble when Beethoven adds a few spicy harmonies in the second half, providing a departure point for the piano. The first variation shows off the mandolin with some nice figurations, then the second goes towards the extremes of the instrument’s range.

Inevitably there is a doleful minor key variation, its sadness exaggerated by the plucking of the mandolin, but it is completely trumped by the following variation which skips merrily towards the end with a broad and slightly mischievous grin. A soft-hearted coda seals the deal.

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)

Alon Sariel and Michael Tsalka have a nice ‘give and take’ to their recording, as do Julien Martineau and Vanessa Benelli Mosell, who are a bit quicker in their version. Anna Torge and Gerald Hambitzer, in a disc from 2018 on CPO, have a lot of fun too – it’s difficult not to in a piece like this!

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 GyrowetzString Quartet in C major Op.13/2

Next up Sonatina for Mandolin and Piano in C minor WoO43a

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