Listening to Beethoven #209 – Notturno in D major Op.42

beethoven-viola

Beethoven’s viola © Beethoven Haus Bonn

Notturno in D major Op.42 arranged for viola and piano by Franz Xaver Kleinheinz under Beethoven’s guidance) (1804, Beethoven aged 33)

Dedication unknown
Duration 28′

1. Marcia: Allegro
2. Adagio
3. Menuetto: Allegretto
4. Adagio – Scherzo: Allegro molto – Adagio – Allegro molto – Adagio
5. Allegretto alla Polacca
6. Andante quasi allegretto – Variations 1-4 – Allegro – Tempo I
7. Marcia: Allegro

Listen

by Ben Hogwood

Background and Critical Reception

Nicholas Marston, writing booklet notes for a Hyperion recording of the Notturno, notes, “The growing amateur market for music in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries encouraged publishers to increase their profits by issuing suitable works in all manner of instrumental arrangements.”

In this spirit, the Notturno in D major is essentially a recasting of the Serenade in D major Op.8, a versatile piece where Beethoven had already authorised an arrangement for flute and piano. This one, completed with the composer’s compliance, was for Beethoven’s own instrument (the viola) and piano.

Beethoven, says Marston, “had little respect for the practice and attempted to exercise some control over it”. Yet the Nocturne was released by the Leipzig publisher Hoffmeister and Kühnel in 1804 in an arrangement by Franz Xaver Kleinheinz (c1770-1832), who was also responsible for the arrangement of Beethoven’s Serenade Op.25 for flute and piano. The score was approved by Beethoven, though not without corrections – made in a fit of pique.

The piece retains its substantial dimensions, being in the originally cast seven movements.

Thoughts

Kleinheinz has, to these ears at least, done a thoroughly good job with Beethoven’s original, giving the viola one of its most substantial pieces from the early 19th century. The brisk, upbeat first movement falls nicely into the instrument’s confines, while the tender side of the viola is revealed in soft, soulful double stopping in the second movement Adagio, together with lyrical passages and a central episode in the minor key with more serious thinking.

The Menuetto is brisk and breezy, while the drama heightens in the central fourth movement Adagio, with several abrupt changes of speed and mood. The relative turmoil of this is complemented by the nimble Allegretto alla Polacca. The substantial penultimate movement Andante quasi Allegretto finds a great deal of expression in the viola’s hands, while the final Marcia has an appreciable heft.

Recordings used and Spotify links

Paul Coletti (viola), Leslie Howard (piano) (Hyperion)
Gérard Caussé
, François-René Duchâble (Erato)
Nobuko Imai
, Roger Vignoles (Chandos)
Nils Mönkemeyer
, Nicholas Rimmer (Genuin)
Simon Rowland-Jones
, Niel Immelman (Meridian)

Some fine versions here, especially those of Nobuko Imai, Gerard Caussé and Paul Coletti. Coletti and Howard provide excellent companion pieces int the fiery early Mendelssohn sonata and Schumann’s Märchenbilder to put the piece in context.

You can listen to clips from the Coletti-Howard account on the Hyperion website, while the rest you can hear in full on this Spotify playlist:

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 1804 Eberl Symphony in D minor, Op. 34

Next up Tremate, empi tremate Op.116

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