Listening to Beethoven #106 – Adagio for mandolin and piano in E flat major WoO 43b


Joséphine de Clary, dedicatee of Beethoven’s music for mandolin and piano. Picture courtesy of the Beethoven-Haus Bonn.

Adagio in E flat major for mandolin and piano, WoO 43b (1796, Beethoven aged 25)

Dedication Joséphine de Clary
Duration 5′

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

The fourth and last of Beethoven’s known works for mandolin and fortepiano is a quite substantial Adagio, whose performing length is similar to the Sonatina in C minor. Its key of E flat major offers the possibility it was intended as the second movement of a bigger structure that went unfinished, as does its compatibility with the first piece. As with the other three of Beethoven’s mandolin works, it was ultimately written for Joséphine de Clary.

Thoughts

The piano takes the lead in this slow movement, which could form a complement to the Sonatina given its key of E flat major. Block chords are the support for a simple melody, the mandolin taking a supporting role at the start of what on the face of it seems like a straightforward piece. Yet here and there Beethoven mixes in some unexpected harmonies to keep the listener on their guard, and a middle section brings more energy before we revert to the original theme with the mandolin now in a higher register. It is quite a strange piece, and restless of mood.

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)

The block chords are clumped together on Tsalka’s fortepiano, as with Gerald Hambitzer on CPO, whereas the modern instrument gives much more sustain for Vanessa Benelli Moselli. Her account with Julien Martineau works best for this reason.

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 Hyacinthe Jadin – 3 Piano Sonatas Op.5

Next up 12 Variations on ‘See the conqu’ring hero comes’ for cello and piano

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