Listening to Beethoven #150 – 5 Pieces for musical clock, WoO 33

Müller’sches Gebäudehe by F. Sager. This was the art gallery where Joseph Count Deym von Střítež exhibited

5 Pieces for musical clock, WoO 33 (1799, Beethoven aged 28)

Dedication Joseph Count Deym von Střítež

Duration 16′

  1. Adagio. Adagio assai in F major
  2. Scherzo. Allegro in G major
  3. Allegro in G major
  4. Allegro non più molto in C major
  5. Minuet. Allegretto in C major

written by Ben Hogwood

Background and Critical Reception

Keith Anderson, in his extensive booklet notes for a collection of Beethoven chamber rarities on Naxos, writes about the Five Pieces for Musical Clock. The first two date possibly from 1794, but Anderson says the last three ‘were completed by 1800 for the exhibition of waxworks and musical automata displayed by Count Josef Deym, under the name of Müller, having returned to Vienna, after self-imposed exile caused by the death of an opponent in a duel.’

A gruesome state of affairs, but apparently, in a need to resurrect his reputation, the Count ‘had commissioned music from Haydn and Mozart, among others. He died in 1804, leaving his widow Josephine, the apparent object of Beethoven’s amorous inclinations, with four children and social problems to surmount from the fact that her husband had been déclassé, a result of his choice to embark on commercial ventures. The pieces for musical clock are transcribed for organ, an instrument the higher range of which corresponded to the higher register of the clock musical apparatus.’

Thoughts

There is a strange and slightly eerie quality to these five pieces when played on the organ. The first piece is a free spirit and quite ghoulish. Although it is marked Adagio there is a fantasy-like quality and a restless movement throughout its six minutes.

The second piece is a cheery triple-time dance played on a whistle, light as a feather. The third is cut from similar cloth, a twirl in the right hand used as a basis for a short piece that sparkles.

These two shorter pieces are given perspective by the longer fourth, a full blown sonata Allegro of jaunty persuasion. Beethoven enjoys moving between the parts, though the melodies are less obvious. The fifth piece, a Minuet, is a natural companion, and carries the same slight amusement level, the composer with tongue in cheek.

Recordings used and Spotify Links

Simon Preston (Deutsche Grammophon)
Janette Fishell (Naxos)

Simon Preston enjoys the unpredictable movements of these pieces, and chooses the ideal light registration for them. Janette Fishell is perhaps better recorded, and enjoys the humourous opportunities Beethoven offers.

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 1799 Haydn String Quartet in F major Op. 77/2

Next up Piano Concerto no.1 in C major Op.15

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