Listening to Beethoven #54 – Giura il nocchier (1st version)


Beethoven stamp, issued in Hungary to mark the bicentenary of the composer’s birth, 1970

Giura il nocchier Hess 230 for four unaccompanied voices (1794, Beethoven aged 23)

Dedication not known
Text Pietro Antonio Domenico Bonaventura Trapassi (1698 – 1782), as Pietro Metastasio
Duration 0’45”

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

Beethoven’s began setting Italian texts in 1793, just as he was beginning to study with Antonio Salieri in a calculated move to bring more operatic elements of composition to his attention. The new teacher would offer his own musical thoughts which the composer kept for posterity.

This particular text, setting Pietro Metastasio, has no fewer than three version – of which this is the first. The translated first verse of two reads, ‘The helmsman swears that he will no longer trust the ocean, but if he sees it calm, he hastens to set sail again’.

Thoughts

This song feels like an exercise, as though Beethoven were feeling his way back into choral composition, after his only previous settings in the big cantatas of the Bonn days.

This setting is foursquare, close harmonies between the voices in the purity of C major – and a very straightforward piece of writing.

Recordings used

Cantus Novus Wien (Naxos)

This recently released version is nicely sung in quite a reverberant setting. It is part of a valuable recent release from Naxos bringing together Beethoven’s secular works for voice. Recorded in Vienna, it highlights the more ‘functional’ side of his writing, with pieces for weddings, name days or departures of a friend.

Spotify links

Cantus Novus Wien

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 1794 William Billings The Continental Harmony

Next up Rondo for piano and violin in G major WoO 41