Listening to Beethoven #119 – Serenade in D major Op.8

Ignaz Schuppanzigh, Austrian violinist, teacher and friend of Beethoven

Serenade in D major Op.8 for string trio (violin, viola and cello) (1796-7, Beethoven aged 26)

Dedication unknown
Duration 30′

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

Background and Critical Reception

Beethoven returned to the string trio for a love letter to Vienna – possibly echoing his feelings after returning to the city. He chose the form of a serenade, and followed many of its conventions, including a March which ushers the players in and takes them out after a series of dance movements.

Choosing a string trio to perform the Serenade was quite unusual. In Mozart’s case the string ensemble would have been more substantial, with wind instruments possibly included.

Beethoven biographer Lewis Lockwood is quite dismissive of this work, implying it is lightweight when compared with the ‘higher level’ of the three string trios that follow as Op.9. Daniel Heartz notes this, but makes a strong claim for the Serenade’s endearing humour. ‘For three solo string instruments to produce such a big, pompous sounds as this Marcia in common time is already funny and portends a good show to come’. He notes how each of the three instruments gets a good solo in the theme and variations movement, placed fourth of six.

He also reveals that the work was advertised alongside another E flat major composition, the Piano Sonata no.4 Op.7, in the Wiener Zeitung on 7 October 1797. Stephen Daw, in his notes for the Leopold Trio recording on Hyperion, observes how ‘the Serenade was challenging material to play by the apparent standards of the time, but it looks as though Beethoven was already acquainted with the great violinist Schuppanzigh (above) at this time.

The use of a Polacca for the fifth movement is unusual, for Daw ‘one of the few real polonaises to survive from the period between those of W. F. Bach and Chopin.

Thoughts

The Serenade is a bright and breezy work, but an ambitious one too, far from the lightweight piece of fluff suggested by Lewis Lockwood.

The Marcia theme that forms the outer casing of the sandwich is hefty, and deceptive with it – Beethoven could easily have four or five instruments on stage rather than three. The contrast with the tender Adagio is rather affecting, and this movement takes its time, looking back longingly when it moves into the minor key.

A brisk Menuetto takes us back for a whirlwind stint on the dancefloor, and fades out rather cleverly with pizzicato. The fourth movement is one of extremes, with a slow section that threatens to spoil the mood, but ends up being a po-faced foil for a capricious Scherzo, taken at a breakneck speed.

The Polacca is next, tripping along with an enjoyment of the dance, and with a catchy tune. Then the theme and variations, which Beethoven turns over beautifully, showcasing each of the trio’s instruments in significant solo episodes – with a special place for the viola in the middle and the cello at the end. After this the reappearance of the Marcia theme ensures the Serenade signs off with a flourish – and everyone can go home!

The Serenade is a thoroughly enjoyable piece, not to be taken too seriously – but with plenty of emotion under its often frivolous surface. It is definitely not a Beethoven work to be thrown away.

Recordings used and Spotify links

L’Archibudelli (Vera Beths (violin), Juergen Kussmaul (viola), Anner Bylsma (cello)
The Grumiaux Trio (Arthur Grumiaux (violin), Georges Janzer (viola), Eva Czako (cello) (Philips)
Anne-Sophie Mutter, Bruno Giuranna and Mstislav Rostropovich (Deutsche Grammophon)
Leopold String Trio Isabelle Van Keulen (violin), Lawrence Power (viola), Kate Gould (cello) (Hyperion)
Trio Zimmermann (Christian Tetzlaff (violin), Antoine Tamestit (viola), Christian Poltéra (cello) (BIS)

You can listen to the versions from L’Archibudelli, the Grumiaux Trio and the Mutter-Giuranna-Rostropovich trio on this playlist:

There are some very fine recordings of the Serenade, with three standing out as excellent – the Grumiaux Trio, who are quite luxurious in their thick sound, the Leopold Trio for a strongly characterised account, and Trio Zimmermann for an equally musical recording. All of them capture Beethoven straining at the leash, offering a Serenade but much more besides.

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 1797 Wranitzky Symphony in C minor, Op. 31 “La paix”

Next up Sonata for piano (four hands) Op.6

Listening to Beethoven #118 – Piano Quartet in E flat major Op.16 (arrangement of Quintet for piano and wind)


View of Vienna from the Belvedere by Bernardo Bellotto (1758-61)

Piano Quartet in E flat major Op.16 (arrangement of Quintet for piano and wind), for piano, violin, viola and cello (1796-7, Beethoven aged 26)

1. Grave – Allegro ma non troppo
2. Andante cantabile
3. Rondo (Allegro ma non troppo)

Dedication unknown
Duration 28′

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

This work is a near-direct copy of the Quintet for piano and wind, arranged for piano quartet forces – piano, violin, viola and cello. Beethoven was very familiar with this combination, having completed the three student quartets in 1785 – and no doubt this arrangement was made with a specific group of players or performing circumstances in mind, not to mention the possibility of increased sales of the music.

This is Richard Wigmore‘s focus in his booklet note for the Nash Ensemble‘s recording of the Piano Quartet on Hyperion. He notes that ‘the piano part is unaltered, though the strings sometimes play where the wind were silent’.

Both versions were published together as Beethoven’s Op.16 in 1801, the quintet having been first performed in 1797.

Thoughts

Though lacking in the warmth of the woodwind colours, this is still an attractive piece. With very little rewritten to accommodate the strings, the moods of the music are largely similar – but I did miss the sonorities of the woodwind, especially in the slower music.

The first movement, after the slow introduction, feels like it has a great deal of purpose with the extra attack offered by the strings, while the second movement brings the role of the piano further forward. Halfway through, when the mood turns darker in the minor key, the viola has a chance to shine taking the solo previously assigned to horn – and it is very well suited to the role. The dance of the third movement Rondo is every bit as attractive as it was before.

Recordings and Spotify link

Mozart Piano Quartet: (Paul Rivinius (piano); Mark Gothoni (violin); Hartmut Rohde (viola); Peter Hörr (cello)] (MDG)
Nash Ensemble: Ian Brown
(piano), Marianne Thorsen (violin), Lawrence Power (viola), Paul Watkins (cello) (Hyperion)

https://open.spotify.com/track/0j6KJe0dbHI3kwdNNjV0eb?si=f-ej7ErZQiyOyXBsAYEUeg

Paul Rivinius and the Mozart Piano Quartet give a strong performance, pushing forward with great purpose when the first movement Allegro reveals itself. However the Nash Ensemble, with more relaxed choice of tempi, get much closer to the emotional core of the music, especially in the slow movement, where the string tone is particularly beautiful and well matched with the piano.

Minute-long clips from the Nash Ensemble recording can be heard on the Hyperion website here

You can chart the Arcana Beethoven playlist as it grows, with one recommended version of each piece we listen to. Catch up here!

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/4BJCc2kWe7McJUVsR7t7bF?si=EoLqmZu9SdipN3wVq-StHg

Also written in 1797 Haydn 6 String Quartets, Op.76 (The Erdödy Quartets)

Next up Piano Quartet in E flat major Op.16

Listening to Beethoven #117 – Quintet for piano and wind in E flat major Op.16


The Freyung in Vienna, from the North-West by Bernardo Bellotto (1758)

Quintet for piano and wind in E flat major Op.16 for piano, clarinet, oboe, horn and bassoon (1796-7, Beethoven aged 26)

1. Grave – Allegro ma non troppo
2. Andante cantabile
3. Rondo (Allegro ma non troppo)

Dedication unknown
Duration 28′

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

On his return to Vienna after the successful Berlin trip, Beethoven ‘settled down to a relatively calm life’, writes Daniel Heartz, ‘where he had many well-paying piano pupils, especially young ladies of noble rank. His health was good, and he was composing some of his most charming chamber music at the time.’

Examples of that charm can be found in the Quintet for piano and wind, where we find Beethoven returning to E flat major – his ‘go to’ key for wind. The work is modelled on Mozart’s Quintet in E flat major K452, completed in 1784 for the same instrumental combination of piano, clarinet, oboe, horn and bassoon. One of Beethoven’s closest friends, Hungarian cellist Nikolaus Zmeskall von Domanovecz, had the autograph score of the Mozart, from where Beethoven took his acquaintance.

Each work is similar in form, cast in three movements. There is a slow introduction to the first movement, a slow movement in B flat major, and a carefree Rondo to finish. Yet the writing itself remains individual, and Richard Wigmore observes how ‘Beethoven…characteristically sets the piano and wind quartet in opposition, so that the outer movements at times resemble a chamber concerto for piano and wind’.

Lewis Lockwood is more critical, lamenting a lack of drama and passion in the first movement when comparing it with the Sonata for piano and cello in G minor Op.5/2. ‘The quality improves in the beautiful opening theme of its slow movement’, he says, but the finale is found ‘lacking Mozart’s perfect blend of imagination and restraint’.

The quintet was premiered on 6 April 1797, at a concert in Ignaz Jahn’s restaurant in Vienna.

Thoughts

It is true, the Quintet is less dramatic than the Cello Sonata – but the two are surely written for very different audiences. This piece would have been for more domestic, intimate music making among friends rather than trying to impress royalty – and its warm textures and collaboration between the quintet confirms that.

As with all the works for wind we have encountered so far, the sonorities are lovely – right from the stately and serious introduction, given in unison by all five instruments. Soon this cuts to a jovial Allegro with winsome melodies. The second movement is a lovely contemplation, introduced by the piano before the lovely sonority of the wind instruments appears once more. There is a lovely horn solo halfway through that steals the show.

The third movement has the catchiest theme, and as it is a Rondo we hear it often, dancing with an attractive turn of foot. It is one of Beethoven’s best earworms so far.

The Beethoven and Mozart quintets fit together hand in glove, which is why they appear on disc together so often. Yet Beethoven’s is a complement rather than a copy, a charming work both to play and to listen to.

Recordings and Spotify link

Pascal Rogé (piano), London Winds [Michael Collins (clarinet), Gareth Hulse (oboe), Richard Watkins (horn), Robin O’Neill (bassoon)]

Gaudier Ensemble [(Susan Tomes (piano), Richard Hosford (clarinet), Douglas Boyd (oboe), Jonathan Williams (horn), Robin O’Neill (bassoon)

Robert Levin (fortepiano), Academy of Ancient Music Chamber Ensemble [Antony Pay (clarinet), Frank de Bruine (oboe), Anthony Halstead (horn), Danny Bond (bassoon)

There is a lovely warm glow to the Gaudier Ensemble slow movement, with flowing piano and a Rondo that dances lightly. The colours are a little sharper in the period instrument version from Robert Levin and the Academy of Ancient Music Chamber Ensemble, but this adds more primary colours to the music, with an appealing rasp to the horn and a crisp clarity to the clarinet, oboe and bassoon

Minute-long clips from the Gaudier Ensemble recording can be heard on the Hyperion website here

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 1797 Haydn 6 String Quartets, Op.76 (The Erdödy Quartets)

Next up Piano Quartet in E flat major Op.16

Listening to Beethoven #113 – Duo for viola and cello in E flat major WoO 32, ‘Eyeglass Duo’


Nikolaus Zmeskall von Domanovecz, courtesy of Beethoven-Haus, Bonn

Duo for viola and cello in E flat major WoO 32, ‘Eyeglass Duo’ (1797, Beethoven aged 26)

1 Allegro
2 Minuetto

Dedication Nikolaus Zmeskall
Duration 14′

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

This is a title to raise the eyebrows – and is one of the curious corners of Beethoven’s output for sure. Perhaps fortunately the eyeglasses are not used to make any music – not directly, at any rate – rather, they refer to the wearers of the eyeglasses, Beethoven himself (viola) and Nikolaus Zmeskall (cello).

Baron Zmeskall was an accomplished cellist and a good friend of Beethoven, and the piece seems to have been written for domestic use only. It is in two lopsided movements, with a substantial first movement full of interaction between the players and a much shorter Minuetto. Richard Wigmore writes of how ‘in the minuet, with its pawky canonic trio, Beethoven suddenly pulls the rug from under the listener’s feet, by veering from E flat to a remote C flat – just the kind of comic-mysterious effect he had learnt from Haydn’.

Thoughts

Beethoven would surely have been aware that Mozart wrote two accomplished – and underrated – duos for violin and viola, and possibly of the four sonatas Michael Haydn published for the combination in the same year, 1797. Working lower down the range, Mozart also wrote a Sonata for bassoon and cello, lasting roughly the same length as this piece.

Perhaps Beethoven was aware of these when writing this highly amenable duo – which presumably appeared in large print, given the sight limitations of the players! Listening to the bright and busy Allegro, the first movement of this piece, the listener can imagine how much pleasure it brought to the bespectacled music makers. It is a lively discourse where the two instruments are treated completely as equals. The writing could easily be lifted from a string quartet, and several times I found my ear was expecting two violins to appear in harmony. The Minuetto is good fun too, including the harmonic trick noted above.

It may be intended for domestic music making only but Beethoven’s craft is all too evident, and his wit too, in this enjoyable miniature.

Recordings used

Veronika Hagen (viola), Clemens Hagen (DG)
Lawrence Power (viola), Paul Watkins (Hyperion)
Jürgen Kussmaul (viola), Anner Bylsma (cello) (Sony Classical)

Three excellent performances, bringing through the elegance of the piece, its genial nature, and also its humourous touches. Kussmaul and Bylsma, on period instruments, have a relatively grainy sound which is still appealing.

Spotify link

Veronika & Clemens Hagen

Jürgen Kussmaul, Anner Bylsma

You can listen to clips from Lawrence Power and Paul Watkins’ version on the Hyperion website

written by Ben Hogwood

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 1797 Michael Haydn 4 Sonatas for Violin and Viola

Next up 12 Variations on the Russian Dance from ‘Das Waldmädchen’

Listening to Beethoven #110 – 6 German Dances for violin and piano WoO 42

La Trénis, Contredanse by PIerre La Mésangère, British Museum

6 German Dances WoO42 for piano and violin (1796, Beethoven aged 25)

Dedication The ‘Countesses Thun’
Duration 5′

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

William Drabkin, writing in the booklet notes for the Complete Beethoven on DG, confirms the background behind these six short dances for violin and piano.

Beethoven describes them as ‘German dances, to which the two Countesses Thun and other people might dance on their heads and thereby think of their Ludwig Van Beethoven who honours them’. Drabkin confirms Beethoven sent the completed work to Vienna while he was on his concert tour of Berlin and Prague during 1795-96. He writes that ‘One of the two unnamed countesses Beethoven is likely to have intended in the dedication is Christiane, wife of his foremost patron during his first years in Vienna, Prince Karl Lichnowsky.’

The dances could be performed by piano alone, but the violin grows into its role as co-melodist as the dances progress.

Thoughts

Beethoven uses ‘safe’ homes for each of these short dances, all in a major key: F – D – F – A – D – G. They are all perky numbers that prove to be good fun, lightening the mood as they would doubtless have done of an evening.

Piano and violin share the load, the violin often using double stopping as in the drone of the rustic second dance or the attractive no.5. The fourth dance has a nice lilt to it, while no.6, the most substantial, finishes on a high.

Recordings used

David Garrett (violin), Bruno Canino (piano) (Deutsche Grammophon)
James Ehnes (violin), Andrew Armstrong (piano) (Signum Classics)

Both performances are thoroughly enjoyable. Ehnes and Armstrong have their collective foot on the accelerator that bit more, dancing with quick feet!

Spotify links

David Garrett, Bruno Canino

James Ehnes, Andrew Armstrong

Also written in 1796 Kreutzer Études ou caprices

Next up 12 German Dances WoO 13