Listening to Beethoven #175 – 12 Contredanses WoO 14

accidents-in-quadrille-dancing

Accidents in Quadrille Dancing (1817 caricature)

12 Contredanses, WoO 14 for orchestra (1791-1802, Beethoven aged 30)

no.1 in C major
no.2 in A major
no.3 in D major (with Trio)
no.4 in B flat major
no.5 in E flat major (with Trio)
no.6 in C major (with Trio)
no.7 in E flat major
no.8 in C major
no.9 in A major
no.10 in C major (with Trio)
no.11 in D major
no.12 in E flat major (with Trio)

Dedication not known
Duration 9′

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

Very little is written about this set of 12 country dances, though they appear to have sat on the back burner for some time, Beethoven having begun them 11 years ahead of publication in 1802.

Daniel Heartz notes a crossing-over of material between these dances and the music for The Creatures of Prometheus, with a reference to ‘the composer’s favourite dance tune’ in no.7, which appears in the ballet as the Finale.

All have attractive, ‘one-off’ themes – but given their brevity there is little to no chance for development of the tunes in a minute or 30-second slot.

Thoughts

The music is bright and simple, and full of melody. There are two ideas in the first dance, which sets the scene with a spring in its step. The second hints at a minor key but has warm-hearted chords in the woodwind. The third is quite brisk, before the fourth moves to B flat major – Beethoven becoming a little more adventurous in this genre with his choice of key.

Beethoven makes a lot of simple themes from the notes of the triad, the fifth dance in E flat major providing a good example of how to construct from simple building blocks. This one is longer, allowing for the clarinet to come forward for a simple second theme. The elegant seventh dance has offbeat woodwind, before the most striking dance, the eighth, with castanets helping let the hair down! There is a similar energy to the ninth, with both gone in a flash – before offbeat emphasis in the eleventh. The final dance is the longest, giving more room for the horns and full orchestra, while lingering on the main theme.

Recordings used

Philharmonia Hungarica / Hans Ludwig Hirsch (Warner Classics)
Berliner Philharmoniker / Lorin Maazel (Deutsche Grammophon)
Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields / Sir Neville Marriner (Philips)
Orchestra of St. Luke’s / Michael Tilson Thomas (Sony Classical)

There is quite a coarse sound to the Philharmonia Hungarica violins in the Warner recording, which shows its age a little – but not the full Lorin Maazel version. Sir Neville Marriner conducts a typically light hearted version, as does Michael Tilson Thomas, fusing the short dances together effectively.

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 1802 Cambini Wind Quintets nos. 1-3

Next up Man strebt, die Flamme zu verhehlen WoO 120

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