Listening to Beethoven #49 – Rondo for piano and orchestra in B flat major


Portrait of Beethoven as a young man by Carl Traugott Riedel

Rondo in B flat major WoO 6 for piano and orchestra (1793, Beethoven aged 22)

Dedication not known
Duration 9′

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

This work bears all the hallmarks of the last movement of a piano concerto, so it comes as no surprise to learn that it was originally intended as the finale for Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no.2 in B flat major, Op.19. This work was particularly long in the making, for it was begun – and more or less finished – in Bonn but held back from full publishing until 1801.

The Rondo, composed in 1793, stands alone, and is used by some pianists as an attractive filler to recordings of the concertos. It was not published in the composer’s lifetime, and the solo part needed completion by Beethoven’s student Carl Czerny before it was finally issued in 1829. Beethoven replaced the Rondo with another finale for the concerto, probably in 1794,

Writing about the piece in the booklet for his recent recording on Naxos, Boris Giltburg suggests the composer ‘felt that the Rondo was too jovial and gallant in spirit, and that the deeply poetic second movement (of the concerto) required a much more energetic, irreverent and humorous finale as a counterweight.’ He opts for the original version in his performance ’only adding short transitions and a cadenza where indicated by Beethoven. In my opinion, the Rondo is a lovely standalone piece, fun and carefree, and it deserves to be played—though I fully agree with Beethoven’s decision to remove it from the Concerto proper.’

Thoughts

The piano begins this piece with a bright, rippling theme, with Beethoven in effervescent mood. The strings respond with lilting syncopations, before the orchestra offer a fuller response. This is music with its roots in the dance, leading you to wonder if Beethoven was indeed experiencing new forms of dance in Vienna.

The piano has plenty of room for display, with quickfire ascents and descents, and extended passages with the fingers playing octaves apart. Beethoven does take room for the second theme, however, piano and strings uniting in a softer, detached melody which still has a dance lilt to it.

The piano leads the orchestra the whole way through, adding flicks and tricks to the mix while the orchestra look on. It is a classic concerto finale, and while at this stage we will take Boris Giltburg’s word for its successor being more suitable for the Piano Concerto no.2, we will have to try it out when the chance arises!

Recordings used

Ronald Brautigam (piano), Norrköpping Symphony Orchestra / Andrew Parrott (BIS)
Boris Giltburg (piano), Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra / Vasily Petrenko (Naxos)
Sviatoslav Richter (piano), Wiener Symphoniker / Kurt Sanderling (Deutsche Grammophon)

Ronald Brautigam’s version is unclear, but the shorter duration of his and Sviatoslav Richter’s recordings would suggest they have taken on Czerny’s revisions. Both versions are excellent, but Richter’s rapport with the orchestra in the softer passages is lovely. The freshness of Boris Giltburg’s account and the newness of the recording tips the scales in his favour, for he clearly loves the piece.

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Boris Giltburg, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra / Vasily Petrenko (Naxos)

Ronald Brautigam, Norrköping Symphony Orchestra / Andrew Parrott

Sviatoslav Richter (piano), Wiener Symphoniker / Kurt Sanderling (Deutsche Grammophon)

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 1793 Haydn 3 String Quartets Op.74

Next up Piano Trio no.1 in E flat major Op.1/1

Listening to Beethoven #45 – Oboe Concerto in F major, second movement


The Beethoven-Haus, Bonn Picture by Dr. Avishai Teicher

Oboe Concerto in F major (slow movement) Hess 12 (1792-3, Beethoven aged 22)

Dedication not known
Duration 7′

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

The Oboe Concerto is one of the works sent by Haydn to the Elector of Cologne, showing the progress of his pupil Beethoven since he started with him in Vienna. What he did not realise at the time was that most of the works, including the Octet previously heard, had already been written in Bonn and were all but complete.

Sadly only the slow movement of the concerto, in B flat major, has survived in full, and even then only in sketch form. There is an outline of melody from the beginning to the end, but the piece needed extensive revision for any performance to be possible. This came from a couple of sources, but the one finished by Charles Joseph Lehrer, and orchestrated by Willem, is the only one to be recorded so far.

Daniel Heartz, in his superb book Mozart, Haydn and Early Beethoven 1781-1802, writes that ‘incipits of the three movements survive on a sheet in the Beethoven Archive at Bonn. The two oboists in electoral service were Georg Libsich and Joseph Welsch. From them the young composer could have learned the instrument’s strengths and limitations. His experiences in Bonn, including playing in the court orchestra, endowed him with a fine feeling for the technical and timbral possibilities of all the instruments.’

Thoughts

This fragment is an intriguing listen, even with the knowledge that a good deal of this work is not by Beethoven himself. Initially the tone is serious but relaxes as the strings expand with a soft-voiced introduction, teeing up the oboe nicely.

The main melody is attractive, and soon the oboe is reaching into the upper end of its register, well above the strings. The soloist has plenty of opportunity to show off, especially in a cadenza towards the end, which is nicely cued up by some spicier harmony from the strings. After the cadenza a short statement of the tender theme is all that is required.

Recordings used

Bart Schneemann, Radio Chamber Orchestra / Jan Willem de Vriend (Channel Classics)

Bart Schneemann gives an excellent account, with Jan Willem de Vriend balancing the small Radio Chamber Orchestra nicely. The slow movement of the concerto is tagged on to a second volume of oboe concertos by the German 18th century composer oboist and composer Ludwig August Lebrun, who died three years before Beethoven’s concerto was sent back to Bonn.

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Bart Schneemann, Radio Chamber Orchestra / Jan Willem de Vriend

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 1793 Haydn 3 String Quartets, Op.71

Next up Que le temps me dure (version 1)

Listening to Beethoven #28 – Violin Concerto movement in C major


Bönn’sches Ballstück, 1754 by Francois Rousseau © UNESCO-Welterbestätte Schlösser Augustusburg und Falkenlust Brühl

Violin Concerto movement in C major WoO 5(1790-2, Beethoven aged 21)

Dedication not known
Duration 15′

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

This is Beethoven’s first attempt at writing a violin concerto, which went as far as 259 bars. The fragment of a first movement is kept in a museum in Vienna, and debate continues as to whether it is part of a single movement or an entire concerto.

Lewis Lockwood thinks it may date from the early Vienna years, but the narrowest time frame available is between 1790 and 1792 – which may mean it predates Beethoven’s departure from Bonn.

Several scholars have attempted to complete the work – but the only official edition came in 1961 from Willy Hess, the admired Beethoven scholar who also completed the E-flat major Piano Concerto we have already heard. The orchestration is straightforward – the violinist accompanied by a chamber orchestra with the strings augmented by flute and pairs of oboes, bassoons and horns.

Thoughts

The musical language of this fragment is quite polite, starting with a genial theme from the orchestra in unison. Beethoven fleshes this out, before the violin rather sneaks in around the 3’30” mark. Once arrived, though, the soloist takes over, leading the orchestra in an attractive if straightforward discourse. The tunes are nice but ultimately less memorable than others Beethoven was writing at the time.

Recordings used

Gidon Kremer, London Symphony Orchestra / Emil Tchakarov (DG)

Jakub Junek, Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra / Marek Štilec (Naxos)

Gidon Kremer plays a substantial completion by Wilfried Fischer, lasting a quarter of an hour and twice the length of the version from Jakub Junek on Naxos. Despite Kremer’s lovely tone it is a little bit overdone, especially with the dimensions of the cadenza towards the end. Jakub Junek’s version is nicely balanced with the Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra.

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Gidon Kremer, London Symphony Orchestra / Emil Tchakarov (DG)

Jakub Junek, Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra / Marek Štilec (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 1783 Abel 6 Symphonies Op.17

Next up Piano Concerto in E flat major WoO 4

Listening to Beethoven #25 – Romance cantabile in E minor


18th century engraving of Bonn (unknown artist)

Romance cantabile in E minor WoO 207 (1786-7, Beethoven aged 16)

Dedication not known
Duration 5′

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

We step back briefly for an encounter with a fragment dating from slightly earlier in the teenage Beethoven’s Bonn years. The Romance cantabile seems to have been written as the slow movement to a concerto – or more likely a Sinfonia concertante for several instruments and orchestra. Its relatively unusual instrumentation suggests it could have been with the Westerholt-Gysenberg family of Bonn in mind, as Beethoven wrote his substantial Trio for Flute, Bassoon and Piano around that time.

After the main theme there is a second section, but it is incomplete and peters out after a short while.

Thoughts

The Romance cantabile is a rather charming piece, though it is laced with melancholy. The elegiac tones of the orchestral introduction are soon given a brighter edge from the piano soloist, who enjoys a little more amiable dialogue with the flute before the serious theme returns.

Beethoven would revisit the key of E minor for a concerto slow movement much later in his career, for the Piano Concerto no.4 .

Recordings used

Patrick Gallois (flute), Pascal Gallois (bassoon), Philharmonia Orchestra / Myung-Whun Chung (piano) (DG)

Johanna Haniková (piano), Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra, Pardubice / Marek Štilec (Naxos)

The Philharmonia strings give a luxurious cushion to the version on DG, which is a relatively glossy account from Patrick and Pascal Gallois, conducted by Myung-Whun Chung, who is also the piano soloist. The Naxos recording is smaller scale and a little more intimate as a result.

Spotify links

Patrick Gallois, Pascal Gallois, Philharmonia Orchestra / Myung-Whun Chung

Johanna Haniková, Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra, Pardubice / Marek Štilec

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 1787 Haydn 6 String Quartets Op.50 (‘Prussian’)

Next up Prüfung des Küssens

Listening to Beethoven #10 – Piano Concerto in E flat major


Beethoven, aged 13. This portrait in oils is said to be the earliest authenticated likeness of Beethoven – but Beethoven-Haus Bonn disputes this description, claiming it to be an unknown youth painted in the early 19th century.

Piano Concerto in E flat major WoO 4(1783-4, Beethoven aged 13)

Dedication not known
Duration 24′

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

Daniel Heartz tells the story of Beethoven’s first foray into the world of the concerto. Barely a teenager, ‘it was appropriate to the young composer’s status as a virtuoso of the keyboard that he should try his hand at writing a piano concerto.’

The work was incomplete however, with the orchestral part left unfinished beyond its two-piano reduction. The trip to Holland mentioned in the previous article on the Rondo in C major looks to have been the driving force behind this composition, for Heartz says that ‘Beethoven may have performed it in a concert at The Hague for which he was paid a large sum as a pianist, and at which Carl Stamitz also appeared as a viola soloist.’

As Jan Swafford notes, the work begins with a ‘flavour of hunting call-cum-march’, an ‘abiding topic in his future concerto first movements’. He calls it a ‘lively and eclectic piece that showed off his virtuosity’, while in his booklet notes to the DG complete Beethoven edition Barry Cooper notes its proximity in style to J.C. Bach rather than Mozart.

Thoughts

In Ronald Brautigam’s recording – where he made the orchestral arrangement – the horns are prominent in the opening salvo, which is reasonable to expect given the key of E flat major which will suit them. Then the piano takes over with an upbeat theme and some florid passagework. The music is fluently written, and follows the rules relatively closely in moving to the keys expected in the course of its development – B flat major, G minor, closely ‘related’ to the home key. The music is both charming and virtuosic.

For the slow movement Beethoven revisits a Larghetto direction (slow but not as slow as the ‘adagio’ tempo marking’) and writes music of an appealing delicacy and charm – undemanding but giving the soloist room to spread their wings a little.

For the finale Beethoven uses a Rondo form (presenting three themes in the sequence A – B – A – C – A – B – A) – a form he used for the last movement of each of his five published piano concertos. Despite the rigorous structure it again sounds very natural and the ‘A’ theme – which you hear from the start – is lightly playful, suggesting a less formal dance. The grace and charm of the third movement has a nice complement in the shape of a rustic ‘C’ theme where we briefly flirt with the minor key and the melody becomes more decorative. Only the ending is a bit strange, with a sudden cut-off point.

Recordings used

Ronald Brautigam (piano), Norrköpping Symphony Orchestra / Andrew Parrott (BIS)
Orchestra of Opera North / Howard Shelley (piano) (Chandos)

Ronald Brautigam gives a fine performance of the concerto, with attentive accompaniment from Andrew Parrott and the Norrköpping Symphony Orchestra. Howard Shelley’s version has a softer orchestration for the first theme of the piece which works really nicely. His playing follows suit, proving particularly effective in the second movement where his affection for Beethoven’s early work is clear.

Spotify links

Ronald Brautigam, Norrköping Symphony Orchestra / Andrew Parrott (tracks 1-3 of the link below)

Orchestra of Opera North / Howard Shelley (piano) (the fourth disc of an album containing all the Beethoven works for piano and orchestra)

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 1783 Abel 6 Symphonies Op.17

Next up Piano Concerto in E flat major WoO 4