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

Listening to Beethoven #86 – 12 German Dances

The panel of Leopold II after the wedding ceremony in the Redoutensaal, 1790 by Hieronymus Löschenkohl (c) Wien Museum

12 German Dances, WoO 8 for orchestra (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

Beethoven’s increased standing in Vienna could be comfortably summed up by his commissions for the masked charity ball, held on 22 November 1795 by the Viennese Artists’ Pension Society. There were two balls, one held in the Large Redoutensaal and one in the smaller hall. Both required a set of 12 dances which were commissioned by leading composers of the day, including Haydn and Dittersdorf.

In 1795 the honour fell to Franz Xaver Süssmayr in the big hall, and Beethoven himself for the smaller venue. He delivered a set of 12 German Dances and 12 Minuets WoO7, up next. In the notes to DG’s Complete Beethoven Edition these are praised by Hans-Günter Klein, who notes Beethoven’s ability to ‘avoid any sense of monotony by his varied deployment of brass and woodwind and by his skilful choice of tonality. The use of piccolo and ‘Turkish’ percussion is for special effects, while the extended final dance, roughly twice the length of the other eleven, ‘sounds like a pre-echo of the ‘Pastoral’ symphony’.

Daniel Heartz tells a great story in his book Mozart, Haydn and Early Beethoven of the event and its context – and how composers would respond to the commission with deliberately ‘safe’ keys. He goes into impressive detail of the form Beethoven uses, which is simple but functional, and is topped off by pure melodic invention.

Thoughts

The dances are good fun – and most have a spring in their step, as though Beethoven relished writing for the ball. The second has an urgent demeanour and the fourth has a few witty glances. Each time Beethoven’s scoring is attractive, giving plenty of room for the tune to be heard but using short bass notes to keep the dancers on their toes.

Sometimes the scoring is thicker, such as in the fifth dance, or the seventh, which brings out heavier percussion. These return in the last dance, where Beethoven brings out the artillery, and the coda, which begins gracefully before getting carried away with trumpet fanfares. The tenth dance has a surprise in store too, with a brief minor-key central section. You can sense Beethoven having fun with his audience’s expectations, having successfully persuaded them all onto the dancefloor.

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 sprightly versions feel as though they have been plucked from the centre of the Viennese dancefloor, with the crisp bass giving extra lift to each step. Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields are more measured, which makes the final coda all the more enjoyable with its added humour. The Philharmonia Hungarica and Hans Ludwig Hirsch are on the slow side tempo-wise.

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 Minuets WoO7

Listening to Beethoven #78 – 6 Minuets for orchestra (arr. Beyer)

The Grosse Redoutensaal (Grand Ballroom) of the Hofburg Imperial Palace in Vienna Engraving by Joseph Schütz

6 Minuets, WoO 10 for orchestra (1795, Beethoven aged 24. Arranged by Franz Beyer)

no.1 in C major
no.2 in G major
no.3 in E flat major
no.4 in B flat major
no.5 in C major
no.6 in D major

Dedication not known
Duration 11′

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

Beethoven’s six minuets of 1795, our first encounter with him working as a composer of dances ‘to order’, were written for an unknown combination of instruments. The only surviving version in his hand is for solo piano, so respected scholar Franz Beyer made an arrangement for orchestra, an imagination of what Beethoven might have written for the bigger stage.

Thoughts

The orchestrations are attractive, Beyer working with a small orchestra to deliver arrangements that sound to these ears like a close approximation of what Beethoven himself would have written. The lively third minuet comes off particularly well in its full arrangement, as does the genial fourth. The sixth is full bodied, like the minuet of a late Haydn symphony.

Recordings used and Spotify links

Philharmonia Hungarica / Hans Ludwig Hirsch (Warner Classics)

The performances here are nicely weighted, if a little slow at times. The celebrated Minuet in G in particular is given at a pedestrian speed, but after acclimatising the ear takes that as a graceful dance.

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 Rondo in G major WoO129 ‘Rage over a lost penny’

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