Violin from Beethoven’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.1 in G major Op.40 for violin and orchestra (1800-02, Beethoven aged 31)
Background and Critical Reception
Beethoven’s first published Romance for violin and orchestra was written after the second, which we have already appraised. It is seen by commentators as part of his preparation for a full-scale violin concerto, having attempted such a work ten years previously.
Once again there is a surprising lack of prose written about this piece, which is odd given its popularity on classical music radio. It is written for a ‘classically sized’ orchestra, the violin teamed with strings, flute, oboes, bassoons and horns.
Beethoven starts his Romance with the solo instrument alone, a striking move. It would have been relatively conventional for a piano to start such a piece on its own, but not the violin – which starts here with soft, plaintive chords, like a drone. The mood is slightly folksy.
Gradually the orchestra join the soloist, and as they do the mood becomes more warm-hearted, the theme heard several times and finished off with a decisive cadence. The violin goes on to lead quite an assertive section in the minor key, before returning to sing the main theme in a higher register.
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
Thomas Zehetmair gives an attractive introduction with the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century under Frans Brüggen, with a fast tempo choice that results in a swift performance time of five and a half minutes. Perhaps not surprisingly Anne-Sophie Mutter lingers longer, hers a luxurious but tender account with Kurt Masur. Arthur Grumiaux has the ideal singing tone for this piece, while Itzhak Perlman also finds great sensitivity.
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 Blasius Clarinet Concerto no.1
Next up Piano Sonata no.16 in G major Op.31/3