Listening to Beethoven #21 – Ritterballet WoO 1


Count von Waldstein, about 1800 by Antonin Machek

Dedication Count Waldstein
Duration 13′

1. March
2. Deutscher Gedsang: Allegro moderato
3. Jagdlied: Allegretto
4. Romanze: Andantino
5. Kriegslied: Allegro assai con brio
6. Trinklied: Allegro con brio – Trio
7. Deutscher Tanz: Walzer
8. Coda: Allegro vivace

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

In which we meet the important character Count Ferdinand Ernst Gabriel von Waldstein for the first time. Waldstein arrived in Bonn in 1788 and was a companion of the Elector. He became part of the Teutonic Order, an organisation of German noblemen, and wrote this Knight’s Ballet for a 1791 meeting of the Order of Bonn. Lewis Lockwood writes that he ‘let it appear that the author of the music was Waldstein’.

Daniel Heartz writes how Gotha’s Theater-Kalender for 1792 called it ‘a characteristic ballet in old German costume…with plot and music invented by Count Waldstein. It honoured the main pastimes of our ancestors – war, hunting, courtship, carousing.’ Despite its brevity there is one particular tune that appears at regular intervals, the ‘returning German song’ as Heartz calls it.

Thoughts

Inevitably it is the melody of the German song that lives long in the memory…and our first fully fledged Beethoven earworm is a real charmer. The whole score is light on the ear, full of good humour and melody.

The Marsch, Jagdlied (Hunting Song), Trinklied (Drinking song) and Deutscher Tanz would not be out of place in a Mozart Serenade or a Haydn Divertimento, while the Kriegslied (War song) is full of bluster. Meanwhile the Romanze is short but perfectly formed, led by pizzicato strings.

Where Beethoven scores particularly highly is in following each of these contrasting sections with the ubiquitous German song, which will have softened even the most hardened features by the end.

Recordings used

Swedish Chamber Orchestra / Thomas Dausgaard (Simax Classics)
Berliner Philharmoniker / Herbert von Karajan (Deutsche Grammophon)
Nicolaus Esterházy Sinfonia / Béla Drahos (Naxos)

Comparisons between the Dausgaard and Karajan versions are fascinating. Karajan is bold, striding forward with weight and purpose in the Marsch and Kriegslied – but entertaining too. Dausgaard is sprightly with a leaner gait but also enjoys the subtle humour of the returning German Song – and the harmonic tricks Beethoven plays near the end. When compared to those two the Nicolaus Esterházy Sinfonia and Béla Drahos feel a little more polite, though still elegant.

Spotify links

Swedish Chamber Orchestra / Thomas Dausgaard (Philips)

Berliner Philharmoniker / Herbert von Karajan (Deutsche Grammophon)

Nicolaus Esterházy Sinfonia / Béla Drahos

Also written in 1791 Haydn Symphony no.96 in D major ‘The Miracle’

Next up 24 Variations on ‘Venni Amore’ WoO 65