Listening to Beethoven #150 – 5 Pieces for musical clock, WoO 33

Müller’sches Gebäudehe by F. Sager. This was the art gallery where Joseph Count Deym von Střítež exhibited

5 Pieces for musical clock, WoO 33 (1799, Beethoven aged 28)

Dedication Joseph Count Deym von Střítež

Duration 16′

  1. Adagio. Adagio assai in F major
  2. Scherzo. Allegro in G major
  3. Allegro in G major
  4. Allegro non più molto in C major
  5. Minuet. Allegretto in C major

written by Ben Hogwood

Background and Critical Reception

Keith Anderson, in his extensive booklet notes for a collection of Beethoven chamber rarities on Naxos, writes about the Five Pieces for Musical Clock. The first two date possibly from 1794, but Anderson says the last three ‘were completed by 1800 for the exhibition of waxworks and musical automata displayed by Count Josef Deym, under the name of Müller, having returned to Vienna, after self-imposed exile caused by the death of an opponent in a duel.’

A gruesome state of affairs, but apparently, in a need to resurrect his reputation, the Count ‘had commissioned music from Haydn and Mozart, among others. He died in 1804, leaving his widow Josephine, the apparent object of Beethoven’s amorous inclinations, with four children and social problems to surmount from the fact that her husband had been déclassé, a result of his choice to embark on commercial ventures. The pieces for musical clock are transcribed for organ, an instrument the higher range of which corresponded to the higher register of the clock musical apparatus.’

Thoughts

There is a strange and slightly eerie quality to these five pieces when played on the organ. The first piece is a free spirit and quite ghoulish. Although it is marked Adagio there is a fantasy-like quality and a restless movement throughout its six minutes.

The second piece is a cheery triple-time dance played on a whistle, light as a feather. The third is cut from similar cloth, a twirl in the right hand used as a basis for a short piece that sparkles.

These two shorter pieces are given perspective by the longer fourth, a full blown sonata Allegro of jaunty persuasion. Beethoven enjoys moving between the parts, though the melodies are less obvious. The fifth piece, a Minuet, is a natural companion, and carries the same slight amusement level, the composer with tongue in cheek.

Recordings used and Spotify Links

Simon Preston (Deutsche Grammophon)
Janette Fishell (Naxos)

Simon Preston enjoys the unpredictable movements of these pieces, and chooses the ideal light registration for them. Janette Fishell is perhaps better recorded, and enjoys the humourous opportunities Beethoven offers.

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 1799 Haydn String Quartet in F major Op. 77/2

Next up Piano Concerto no.1 in C major Op.15

Listening to Beethoven #3 – Fugue for organ in D major


The organ of the Minorite Church in Bonn, which Beethoven played at the age of 12. Photograph from 1905, in the collection of the Beethoven-Haus Bonn

Fugue in D major WoO 31 for organ (1783, Beethoven aged 12)

Dedication not known
Duration 2’15

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

Although Beethoven regularly played the organ in his years at the Bonn court, he wrote virtually no organ music – and what survives is certainly not well known. The DG notes for their complete Beethoven edition describe it as a ‘rather modest two-voice fugue in D, written at the age of 11 or 12’ – and that’s it.

Thoughts

Yes it may be modest – and in the end it is relatively unmemorable – but there is something very impressive about the sure-footed way this fugue goes about its business. The thematic entries are textbook, Beethoven following the rules when it comes to writing a fugue, but the arrival at the big held note on the pedals towards the end feels inevitable – as does the conclusion.

Recordings used

Simon Preston (DG), Janette Fishell (Naxos)

Whereas Simon Preston’s version keeps moving it has quite a remote tone, recorded at more of a distance. Janette Fishell (Naxos) gives the fugue a warmer registration on the organ and brings it to life more. The final cadence feels more impressive in her hands.

Spotify links

Simon Preston

Janette Fishell

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=yrxRSnPxTe6qtJRREUNSLQ

Also written in 1782 AlbrechtsbergerMass in D major Albrechtsberger was Beethoven’s teacher for a while, and you can read about him here

Next up Rondo in A major