Violin from Beethonven’s possession, one of four instruments Beethoven received as a gift from Prince Karl von Lichnowsky around 1800 (image from the Beethoven-Haus Bonn)
Romance no.2 in F major Op.50 for violin and orchestra (1798, Beethoven aged 27)
Background and Critical Reception
After his early attempt at a concerto for violin and orchestra in 1792, Beethoven revisits the combination with two Romances – published in 1803 and 1805 as Op.40 and Op.50 respectively. The second is thought to predate the first, completed in 1798. Both Romances are thought to have been candidates for the slow movement of the early concerto, written as they are in suitable keys – but they stand alone as popular pieces.
Wolfram Steinbeck, writing for Universal’s Complete Beethoven Edition, observes that ‘Beethoven created a new genre with these two works, the violin romance, which found a number of successors in the 19th century (famous ones were composed by Berlioz, Dvořák and Bruch).’
Commentators observe that the focus is the singing tone of the violin, rather than athletic virtuosity. ‘These works by Beethoven were also to have been a stepping stone to his great Violin Concerto’, writes Steinbeck. ‘What appears there in broad strokes is tried out here on a much smaller canvas.’
Given the popularity of both Romances, there is a surprising dearth of writing from scholars of the composer.
The Romance no.2 is a sublime piece, and Beethoven fulfils his aims by really making the violin sing, The orchestral accompaniment is kept very much in the background but with the lovely ‘Viennese’ sound of a small orchestra.
As the piece progresses there is the opportunity for the violinist to show off, but lyricism is always the prime aim – and the tune itself is a keeper. Beethoven’s softer side is not always acknowledged, but it is to the fore throughout in this piece.
Recordings used and Spotify links
Anne-Sophie Mutter (violin), New York Philharmonic Orchestra / Kurt Masur (Deutsche Grammophon)
Thomas Zehetmair (violin), Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century / Frans Brüggen
Itzhak Perlman (violin), Berliner Philharmoniker / Daniel Barenboim
Arthur Grumiaux (violin), Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra / Sir Colin Davis
The creamy tone of Anne-Sophie Mutter may be a bit calorie-rich for some tastes, but it is an undeniably beautiful way to experience the Romance, nicely accompanied by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and Kurt Masur. By contrast Thomas Zehetmair uses much less vibrato, playing with the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century under Frans Brüggen in an account where less is most definitely more where emotion is concerned. Itzhak Perlman gives a special account with Daniel Barenboim and the Berliner Philharmoniker, while Arthur Grumiaux’s famous singing tone is ideal for these purposes.
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 1798 Eybler Clarinet Concerto in B-flat major
Next up 7 Variations on ‘Kind, willst du ruhig schlafen’ WoO 75