Commemorative medal for Ludwig van Beethoven, 1927 – Bronze medal from the Hungarian Ministry of Culture based on a design by József Reményi
Andante in F major WoO 57, ‘Andante favori’ for piano (1803, Beethoven aged 32)
Dedication not known
written by Ben Hogwood
Background and Critical Reception
The origins for this single-movement piece lie in Beethoven’s forthcoming Waldstein piano sonata. A substantial Andante was composed as the central movement for the piece, seemingly begun in late 1803 – but was thought by many of Beethoven’s contemporaries to be too long.
Lewis Lockwood gives interesting detail on the construction of the sonata, describing the movement as ‘smooth and ingratiating’. He considers the reasons for the movement’s omission…that ‘keeping this big Andante along with the finale would have resulted in two long rondos in succession. Another was that although this ornate and conventional Andante would have furnished a quiet contrast to the dynamic first and third movements, it fell below their level of interest’.
The piece was published as a standalone work in 1804/5, gaining its title Andante favori for a second release in 1807, and won critical acclaim even as a ‘bleeding chunk’. It was replaced with a much shorter – and highly original – Introduzione.
It seems a little unfair to describe the Andante as ‘conventional’ and as ‘below the level of interest’ of the other two Waldstein sonata movements. It does however suit its publication as a single work, standing on its own as a subdued but subtly emotional piece of work.
There is a prayerful quality to its slowly unfolding contours, Beethoven seemingly taking tame out for deep contemplation. Once again however he delivers a main theme of melodic interest that stays in the mind soon after the first hearing. Development of this theme is typically assured, and there are contrasting elements – a faster section moving towards C major, and another where Beethoven beautifully displaces the key in to B flat major and a brightly voiced theme in octaves. There is a ‘false’ end, too, where the piece threatens to finish but has one final statement to make.
It is easy to see why the Andante favori has become a popular piece, with its thoughtful undertones easy to interpret as romantic, lovelorn thoughts. It feels, even with the restraint on show here, as though we are close to the heart of Beethoven’s matter.
Recordings used and Spotify playlist
Ronald Brautigam (BIS)
Jenő Jandó (Naxos)
Mikhail Pletnev (Deutsche Grammophon)
Alfred Brendel (Philips)
Sviatoslav Richter (Warner Classics)
Andras Schiff (ECM)
Boris Giltburg (Naxos)
There are some excellent recordings of this piece. Perhaps predictably Sviatoslav Richter finds an inner spirituality to the work, stretching it out in an almost imperceptible way. Alfred Brendel delivers a beautifully phrased and nuanced performance. Andras Schiff also finds the emotional centre of the piece, while Ronald Brautigam, playing on a ‘period’ instrument, plays more quickly but lovingly too.
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 1803 Crusell Clarinet Concerto no.3 in B flat major
Next up Symphony no.3 in E flat major Op.55 ‘Eroica’