Listening to Beethoven #193 – 6 Ländler WoO 15 (piano version)

ein-landler

Ein Landler (anon, 1897)

6 Ländler WoO 15 for piano (1802, Beethoven aged 31)

Dedication unknown
Duration 6′

written by Ben Hogwood

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Background and Critical Reception

Beethoven often turned to the Ländler, a folk dance in 3/4 time, as a way of helping entertain his Viennese clientele. He was able to score them for different instrumental combinations, presumably in response to the circumstances of the entertainers. This set is originally for two violins and a bass instrument – but as with many of these dances was also reworked into a piano version.

Thoughts

The piano version of these dance pieces brings out the ‘drone’ qualities in the accompaniment more. These can be heard on the first beat of the bar, where the left hand of the piano typically plays in intervals of a fifth, the support on which the more rhythmic elements of the dance can work their magic.

Recordings used and Spotify links

Jenő Jandó (Naxos)
Martino Tirimo (Hänssler)

Both versions are nicely played, bringing out the spring in Beethoven’s step.

Also written in 1802 Förster 3 String Quartets Op.21

Next up Graf, liebster Graf, liebstes Schaf WoO 101

Listening to Beethoven #192 – 6 Ländler WoO 15 (version for two violins and bass)

Wilhelm_Gause_Hofball_in_WienTwo ladies are presented to Emperor Franz Joseph at a ball in the Hofburg Imperial Palace, painting by Wilhelm Gause (1900)

6 Ländler WoO 15 for two violins and bass (1802, Beethoven aged 31)

Dedication unknown
Duration 6′

written by Ben Hogwood

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

As we know from earlier examples, Beethoven often turned to the Ländler, a folk dance in 3/4 time, as a way of helping entertain his Viennese clientele. He was able to score them for different instrumental combinations, presumably in response to the circumstances of the entertainers. This set is originally for two violins and a bass instrument – but as with many of these dances was also reworked into a piano version.

Thoughts

D major was Beethoven’s ‘go-to’ key for Ländler – and five of the six examples in this small set are in that key. The only exception is no.4 in D minor, which works well as a ‘trio’ section if all six are played back to back. It is a frown in comparison to the other five, which are carefree examples of Beethoven fulfilling a function with ease.

The first is bright, and light on its feet, the fifth has an attractive flourish but feels half-finished. Typically the sixth and final dance, a simple arpeggiated affair, signs off with a coda.

Recordings used and Spotify links

Tristan Siegel, Noa Sarid (violins), Aleck Belcher (double bass) (Naxos)
Lukas Hagen, Rainer Schmidt (violins), Alois Posch (double bass) (Deutsche Grammophon)
Consortium Classicum (Warner Classics)

Some attractive versions – including an account for small string ensemble, nicely played by Consortium Classicum.

Also written in 1802 Förster 3 String Quartets Op.21

Next up 6 Ländler for piano WoO 15 (1802)

Listening to Beethoven #191 – Bagatelle in C major WoO 54, ‘Lustig-Traurig’

Beethoven-Medaille, 1927

Bagatelle in C major WoO 54, ‘Lustig-Traurig’ for piano (1802, Beethoven aged 31)

Dedication not known
Duration 2′

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written by Ben Hogwood

Background and Critical Reception

Around his major compositions we will continue to find Beethoven’s miniatures. This piece, whose nickname translates as ‘happy-sad’, is thought by some to have originated in 1798 – and appears to have just missed out on inclusion in the Op.33 set published earlier in the year.

Perhaps because of its size, this piece is glossed over by Beethoven commentators in favour of its more substantial companions. It appears to have been written for pianists of moderate ability, as with many of the bagatelles.

Thoughts

The happy-sad elements of this bagatelle are all told through harmony. This short character piece follows the profile of its title – switching mood between happy (C major) and sad (C minor). It’s a little doubtful if the C minor is actually sad, as it sounds more agitated, and the C major sounds happy in a slightly wary way we might associate more with Schubert.

Yet here is an aspect of Beethoven’s genius, the ability to write for all levels – be it the advanced player or the occasional one – and leave each a memorable work, a catchy tune, an enjoyable piece to return to.

Recordings used and Spotify playlist

Jenő Jandó (Naxos)
Olli Mustonen (Sony BMG)
Ronald Brautigam (BIS)

Three very different recordings. Olli Mustonen always has an individual take and this longer, stretched version is no exception. Brautigam is brisk, and Jandó nicely measured.

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 Reichardt Das Zauberschloss

Next up 6 Ländler WoO15

On Record – Saint Etienne: I’ve Been Trying To Tell You (Heavenly)

saint-etienne

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

For their tenth album, Saint Etienne have taken a trip down memory lane. The trio of Bob Stanley, Pete Wiggs and Sarah Cracknell have all been recalling events, thoughts and emotions from 1997 to 2001, a period when the UK was basking in rarefied optimism under New Labour. Was it all a bad dream? Was it as good a time as people thought?

Using samples and clever production techniques, the trio pose these questions and more, in the form of a sample-based album that uses clips from the time period. For the first time – presumably for lockdown reasons – the album was recorded remotely, with no need for a studio – and with assistance from composer Guy Bousfield, who wrote two songs on the album.

What’s the music like?

Very relaxed and dreamy, even for a Saint Etienne album. It is much less song-based than is the norm for the trio, and the aim of the gentle memory jogging is subtle rather than firmly pointed. The focus on sonic snippets and the dubby, instrumental approach could easily be teleported from the period in question. We hear less from Sarah Cracknell as a vocalist, but that means that the times she does appear are accentuated, her phrases given extra importance. The profile of the music yields more satisfaction with each listen, as the manipulation of the samples is made clearer.

The samples themselves are unexpected – with appearances for Honeyz, The Lightning Seeds, Lighthouse Family and Samantha Mumba that if anything emphasise the musical distance we have put between ourselves and the period in focus. The field recordings have a more immediate effect of how society might have been before the pandemic, creating their own form of yearning.

Cracknell it is who starts the album, with several vocal lines competing for the foreground in Music Again, where a loping beat ebbs and flows gently. Fonteyn pans out even further, with the wide open natural spaces including birdsong at the end – a quality shared by many recently-released albums, recorded under lockdown conditions. Fonteyn segues into the gorgeous Little K, a warm fuzz of a track with dappled harp and sun-blushed ambience.

Blue Kite is glitchy in profile, drifting in and out of focus, before working up more of a head of steam. Pond House has a slow, wide open beat with a woozy texture, enhancing the dream state along with Cracknell’s ‘here it comes again’ loop. The singer comes to the front of the virtual stage for Penlop, a lullaby in all but name that calms the senses, before the gentle lapping of Broad River completes the recollections.

Does it all work?

Yes. Albums rooted in nostalgia often make the mistake of over-using the rose tinted spectacles in their longing backwards glances, but if anything I’ve Been Trying To Tell You does the opposite, in an unforced but gently nagging way.

The album is more a single construction than previous Saint Etienne long players, its relative lack of songs compensated by the bigger overall structure.

Is it recommended?

It is. I’ve Been Trying To Tell You poses as many questions as it answers, and although it works extremely well as an album to get horizontal with, there are many layers to its genius. It subtly but pointedly asks where the UK is now, where it is going, and were we all sold a dummy as the millennium approached?

There is an accompanying film from photographer Alasdair McLellan but the music for I’ve Been Trying To Tell You creates its own beautifully rendered imagery for the listener to lose themselves in. It is a rather lovely album.

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Listening to Beethoven #190 – “Ne’ giorni tuoi felici”, WoO 93

Portrait of Pietro Metastasio, c1770, by Meytens or Batoni

“Ne’ giorni tuoi felici”, WoO 93, duet for soprano, tenor and orchestra (1802, Beethoven aged 31)

Dedication Not known
Text Pietro Metastasio
Duration 7′

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Background and Critical Reception

Ne’ giorni tuoi felici (‘In your days of happiness’) uses text from Metastasio’s L’Olimpiade, with Beethoven becoming the third recorded composer to set these words behind Leonardo Leo and Florian Gassmann. Writing briefly about the duet in booklet notes for Hyperion, Nicholas Marston notes that two of the soloists at the premiere, which appears not to have taken place until 1814, were Anna Milder-Hauptmann and Carl Weinmüller. They helped create the roles of Leonore and Rocco respectively in the premiere of Fidelio later that year.

Very little is written about this piece, other than to note its position in Beethoven’s output as one of the last vocal works written under the tuition of Salieri.

Thoughts

We hear the tenor first, pleading, ‘in the days of your happiness remember me’ – and his lover, the soprano, answers in kind. Initially the mood is relatively calm, but as the duet progresses things become more agitated. The singers’ lines are deeply expressive, and initially slower that has perhaps been the norm in Beethoven’s vocal music with orchestra so far. The composer gives the voices plenty of room, the orchestra at a polite distance, but the violins have important counter melodies to contribute.

A quicker section arrives just over half way through, the singers ‘dying of jealousy’ as they experience considerable distress, not to mention ‘savage pain’. This sours the mood and tugs at the heartstrings, ending the duet on a fractious note. At this point it feels unfinished, with more of the story to play out – as though Beethoven could have continued to write a more expansive piece using Metastasio’s text.

The soprano writing often hits the heights, but in a way less concerned with overt display and more with lyrical passion. She leads the duet, which makes a powerful impression – and gives notice that Beethoven’s dramatic gifts will be more than capable of shifting to the operatic stage before too long.

Recordings used

Dan Karlström (tenor), Reetta Haavisto (soprano), Turku Philharmonic Orchestra / Leif Segerstam (Naxos)

Christopher Maltman (tenor), Janice Watson (soprano), English Chamber Orchestra / Matthew Best (Hyperion) (an excerpt can be heard here)

Arthur Apelt (tenor), Hannelore Kuhse (soprano), Staatskapelle Berlin / Eberhard Büchner (Eterna)

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 Charles-Simon Catel Sémiramis

Next up Bagatelle in C major / minor ‘Lustig-traurig’