Listening to Beethoven #182 – Romance no.1 in G major Op.40

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)

Dedication unknown
Duration 7′

Listen

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.

Thoughts

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

Listening to Beethoven #175 – 12 Contredanses WoO 14

accidents-in-quadrille-dancing

Accidents in Quadrille Dancing (1817 caricature)

12 Contredanses, WoO 14 for orchestra (1791-1802, Beethoven aged 30)

no.1 in C major
no.2 in A major
no.3 in D major (with Trio)
no.4 in B flat major
no.5 in E flat major (with Trio)
no.6 in C major (with Trio)
no.7 in E flat major
no.8 in C major
no.9 in A major
no.10 in C major (with Trio)
no.11 in D major
no.12 in E flat major (with Trio)

Dedication not known
Duration 9′

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

Very little is written about this set of 12 country dances, though they appear to have sat on the back burner for some time, Beethoven having begun them 11 years ahead of publication in 1802.

Daniel Heartz notes a crossing-over of material between these dances and the music for The Creatures of Prometheus, with a reference to ‘the composer’s favourite dance tune’ in no.7, which appears in the ballet as the Finale.

All have attractive, ‘one-off’ themes – but given their brevity there is little to no chance for development of the tunes in a minute or 30-second slot.

Thoughts

The music is bright and simple, and full of melody. There are two ideas in the first dance, which sets the scene with a spring in its step. The second hints at a minor key but has warm-hearted chords in the woodwind. The third is quite brisk, before the fourth moves to B flat major – Beethoven becoming a little more adventurous in this genre with his choice of key.

Beethoven makes a lot of simple themes from the notes of the triad, the fifth dance in E flat major providing a good example of how to construct from simple building blocks. This one is longer, allowing for the clarinet to come forward for a simple second theme. The elegant seventh dance has offbeat woodwind, before the most striking dance, the eighth, with castanets helping let the hair down! There is a similar energy to the ninth, with both gone in a flash – before offbeat emphasis in the eleventh. The final dance is the longest, giving more room for the horns and full orchestra, while lingering on the main theme.

Recordings used

Philharmonia Hungarica / Hans Ludwig Hirsch (Warner Classics)
Berliner Philharmoniker / Lorin Maazel (Deutsche Grammophon)
Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields / Sir Neville Marriner (Philips)
Orchestra of St. Luke’s / Michael Tilson Thomas (Sony Classical)

There is quite a coarse sound to the Philharmonia Hungarica violins in the Warner recording, which shows its age a little – but not the full Lorin Maazel version. Sir Neville Marriner conducts a typically light hearted version, as does Michael Tilson Thomas, fusing the short dances together effectively.

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 Cambini Wind Quintets nos. 1-3

Next up Man strebt, die Flamme zu verhehlen WoO 120

Listening to Beethoven #111 – 12 German Dances WoO 13

Redoutensaal with masked ball, engraving by Weimann Photo (c) Julia Teresa Friehs

12 German Dances, WoO 13 for piano (1796, Beethoven aged 25

no.1 in D major
no.2 in B flat major
no.3 in G major
no.4 in D major
no.5 in F major
no.6 in B flat major
no.7 in D major
no.8 in G major
no.9 in E flat major
no.10 in D major
no.11 in A major
no.12 in D major

Dedication possibly Vienna Artists’ Pension Society
Duration 14′

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

The general feeling among Beethoven commentators is that this set of 12 German Dances, like the previous ones we have heard, were written for orchestra. It is reasonable to assume they would have been a repeat commission for the masked charity ball of the Viennese Artists’ Pension Society, given the success of the previous year’s commission in 1795, but on this occasion no orchestral scoring survives; just a short score for piano.

Thoughts

These are lively pieces and good fun to listen to – and no doubt good fun in the ballroom too. Their full value would be revealed there, for to listen to them without the dancing means they start to blend in to one after a while.

Recordings used and Spotify links

Gianluca Cascioli (DG)
Jenõ Jandó (Naxos)

 

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 1796 Cimarosa I nemici generosi

Next up Piano Sonata no.5 in C minor Op.10/1

Listening to Beethoven #90 – 12 German Dances (piano version)

Masked Ball in the Großen Redouten-saal, Hofburg (by Markus Weinmann, 1748)

12 German Dances, WoO 8 for piano (1795, Beethoven aged 24)

no.1 in C major
no.2 in A major
no.3 in F major
no.4 in B flat major
no.5 in E flat major
no.6 in G major
no.7 in G major
no.8 in C major
no.9 in A major
no.10 in F major
no.11 in G major
no.12 and Coda in C major

Dedication Vienna Artists’ Pension Society
Duration 20′

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

This is the piano version of the German Dances Beethoven wrote for the Redoutensaal ball of November 1795 in Vienna.

Thoughts

The dances work really well for piano, ad while they may not be as colourful as the orchestral version the keyboard brings out the crisp nature of the composer’s dance rhythms.

Recordings used and Spotify links

Jenő Jandó (Naxos)

Jandó plays with a nice lilt to the rhythms, showing how the dances are clearly for communal use. Having one follow the other so immediately works well in an energetic account. The final dance tails off rather movingly at the end.

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 1795 Gyrowetz Three Flute Quartets Op.11

Next up 12 Variations on ‘Menuet a la Vigano’ WoO 68

Listening to Beethoven #87 – 12 Minuets

Court banquet in the Redoutensaal on the occasion of the marriage of Joseph II and Isabella of Bourbon-Parma by Martin van Meytens

12 Minuets, WoO 7 for orchestra (1795, Beethoven aged 24

no.1 in D major
no.2 in B flat major
no.3 in G major
no.4 in E flat major
no.5 in C major
no.6 in A major
no.7 in D major
no.8 in B flat major
no.9 in G major
no.10 in E flat major
no.11 in C major
no.12 in F major

Dedication Vienna Artists’ Pension Society
Duration 25′

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

These dances are companions to the 12 German Dances WoO 8, and were written for the masked ball in the Large Redoutensaal, Vienna, on 22 November 1795. It is thought Beethoven had Haydn‘s sponsorship for this event – his teacher had composed for the event three years earlier, a charitable donation. It is also thought Haydn would have attended the 1795 ball.

The minuets last around 2 minutes each, and as with Beethoven’s previous dances they are easy on the ear and light on the feet – despite being composed for a relatively large orchestra, with trumpets and timpani. Daniel Heartz, in a characteristically detailed appraisal of the dances, finds them to be longer than Haydn’s examples, and notes how their choices of key tend to be a third apart.

Thoughts

There is nothing too daring here given the function they were written for, but at the same time there is an embarrassment of good tunes and danceable beats for the guests.

The third minuet, in G major, is especially lively, and has some lovely in its middle section with a pair of horns. The fourth, in E flat major, has a beefy main them which contrasts with the delightful clarinet solo in its middle section. After a while there is a danger that all the different minuets will feel like one long dance, but Beethoven varies the scoring and melodic material enough to avoid that.

Minuet no.9 is brightly scored for the wind, while no.10, returning to E flat major, is like many of these pieces still in thrall to Haydn. The last, as is Beethoven’s wont, features the shrill piccolo in its middle section, the middle of a regal F major sandwich.

Recordings used and Spotify links

The playlist below includes recordings from Philharmonia Hungarica / Hans Ludwig Hirsch (Warner Classics), the Swedish Chamber Orchestra conducted by Thomas Dausgaard on Simax and the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields under Sir Neville Marriner (Philips)

Thomas Dausgaard’s crisp versions are once again a lot of fun, if a touch aggressive at times – the dancers might have a couple of bruised feet afterwards! Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields are typically stylish and colourful. Once again the Philharmonia Hungarica and Hans Ludwig Hirsch are more relaxed in their steps.

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 1795 Pleyel Keyboard Trio in D major B461

Next up Zärtliche Liebe WoO123