Listening to Beethoven #215 – Triple Concerto in C major Op.56

View of the Augarten Palace and Park, Vienna by Johann Ziegler

Triple Concerto in C major Op.56 for piano, violin, cello and orchestra (1803-4, Beethoven aged 33)

1 Allegro
2 Largo (attacca)
3 Rondo alla polacca

Dedication Joseph Franz von Lobkowitz
Duration 38′


written by Ben Hogwood

Background and Critical Reception

It is fashionable in recent times to look down on Beethoven’s Triple Concerto, but despite its perceived critical failings it was an innovative work for its time. Lewis Lockwood notes how, “We can readily connect the Triple Concerto with the symphonie concertante that had prospered in France and in French-influenced centres such as Bonn and Mannheim in the later eighteenth century, and which stayed alive until about 1810.”

Beethoven had performers in mind when writing the piece, too – the violinist Georg August Seidler, cellist Anton Kraft (the senior figure in the cello-playing family) and almost certainly Beethoven himself, at the piano. Jan Swafford traces the origins of Beethoven’s thinking to the baroque concerto grosso, describing the work as ‘gorgeous but peculiar, expensive and impractical to perform’. Commentators are united in drawing a link to Beethoven’s intentions at the time of composition, where he was looking to move to Paris and impress the musical hierarchy there. The concerto would have been in his arsenal for sure, but while staying put it quickly lost its allure – with no public performance until 1808, at the summer concerts in Augarten (above)

The Triple Concerto has a substantial structure, with a first movement almost 20 minutes in length – then a relatively brief Largo in A flat major which leads directly to a Rondo alla Polacca finale. The key choice is instructive, A flat having been used for the slow movements of the Pathetique sonata and the Piano Concerto no.1. Commentators have noted how prominent the cello in this piece – and in their excellent book Beethoven’s Cello, Marc D. Moskovitz and R. Larry Todd spend time examining its role.

Along with Lewis Lockwood, they see the Triple Concerto as a forebear to techniques used by Beethoven soon after in his third Cello Sonata, Op.69, with Lockwood going further to bring in the two piano trios Op.70.


Listening to the Triple Concerto is a pleasant if undemanding experience – and if the listener is in the right mood an enjoyable concert experience is in store. It certainly is a long first movement, its 20 minutes an extraordinary length of time for a concerto even when there are three soloists involved. Although it can seem very drawn out at times there is a very appealing warmth, especially when the cello is to the fore. Its themes are invested with a great deal of warmth, complemented by the violin and then trumped by the piano.

The second movement feels like a flash in the pan, for it is only 5 minutes in length (roughly 15% of the work) but it has an appealing tenderness and lyricism. The Rondo alla Polacca is a ‘safe’ C major, though there is some dancing as the soloists have fun together.

The musical language of the Triple Concerto feels relatively basic – back in C major as we were in the Piano Concerto no.1 – but the interplay between the soloists is where the chief interest lies. The language feels quite basic – we are in C major as we were for the first piano Concerto – and the length of the piece is considerable. Yet, in the right combination of soloists and orchestra, the Triple Concerto can still be an appealing proposition.

Recordings used and Spotify links

David Oistrakh (violin), Mstislav Rostropovich (cello), Sviatoslav Richter (piano), Berliner Philharmoniker / Herbert von Karajan (EMI)
Christian Tetzlaff, Tanja Tetzlaff, Royal Northern Sinfonia / Lars Vogt (Ondine)
Wolfgang Schneiderhan, Pierre Fournier, Géza Anda, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin / Ferenc Fricsay (Deutsche Grammophon)
Beaux Arts Trio, London Philharmonic Orchestra / Bernard Haitink (Philips)
Urban Svensson, Mats Rondin, Boris Berezovsky, Swedish Chamber Orchestra / Thomas Dausgaard (Simax)

The Triple Concerto discography is dripping with illustrious soloists, sometimes starry individuals in search of a winning trio showcase, or artists who have formed a genuine musical chemistry together. Of the versions listed above, there are some high voltage collisions that prove an intoxicating experience – none more so than the irresistible combination of Oistrakh, Rostropovich, Richter and Karajan.

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 1804 Spohr Violin Concerto no.2 in D minor Op.2

Next up Piano Sonata no.23 in F minor Op.57 ‘Appassionata’

Listening to Beethoven – normal service will be resumed shortly!

from Ben Hogwood

Regular readers of these pages may have wondered what has happened to Arcana’s Beethoven listening project. I am very pleased to say that it has not finished, merely been put on pause – and will resume with the mighty Eroica symphony very soon! To whet your appetite, here is a 2016 concert performance from the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Andrés Orozco-Estrada:

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′


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.


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 (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′


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.


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′


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.


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