View of Vienna from the Belvedere by Bernardo Bellotto (1758-61)
Piano Quartet in E flat major Op.16 (arrangement of Quintet for piano and wind), for piano, violin, viola and cello (1796-7, Beethoven aged 26)
1. Grave – Allegro ma non troppo
2. Andante cantabile
3. Rondo (Allegro ma non troppo)
Background and Critical Reception
This work is a near-direct copy of the Quintet for piano and wind, arranged for piano quartet forces – piano, violin, viola and cello. Beethoven was very familiar with this combination, having completed the three student quartets in 1785 – and no doubt this arrangement was made with a specific group of players or performing circumstances in mind, not to mention the possibility of increased sales of the music.
This is Richard Wigmore‘s focus in his booklet note for the Nash Ensemble‘s recording of the Piano Quartet on Hyperion. He notes that ‘the piano part is unaltered, though the strings sometimes play where the wind were silent’.
Both versions were published together as Beethoven’s Op.16 in 1801, the quintet having been first performed in 1797.
Though lacking in the warmth of the woodwind colours, this is still an attractive piece. With very little rewritten to accommodate the strings, the moods of the music are largely similar – but I did miss the sonorities of the woodwind, especially in the slower music.
The first movement, after the slow introduction, feels like it has a great deal of purpose with the extra attack offered by the strings, while the second movement brings the role of the piano further forward. Halfway through, when the mood turns darker in the minor key, the viola has a chance to shine taking the solo previously assigned to horn – and it is very well suited to the role. The dance of the third movement Rondo is every bit as attractive as it was before.
Recordings and Spotify link
Mozart Piano Quartet: (Paul Rivinius (piano); Mark Gothoni (violin); Hartmut Rohde (viola); Peter Hörr (cello)] (MDG)
Nash Ensemble: Ian Brown (piano), Marianne Thorsen (violin), Lawrence Power (viola), Paul Watkins (cello) (Hyperion)
Paul Rivinius and the Mozart Piano Quartet give a strong performance, pushing forward with great purpose when the first movement Allegro reveals itself. However the Nash Ensemble, with more relaxed choice of tempi, get much closer to the emotional core of the music, especially in the slow movement, where the string tone is particularly beautiful and well matched with the piano.
Minute-long clips from the Nash Ensemble recording can be heard on the Hyperion website here
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 1797 Haydn 6 String Quartets, Op.76 (The Erdödy Quartets)
Next up Piano Quartet in E flat major Op.16