Listening to Beethoven #31 – Flute Sonata in B flat major


Gentleman walking a hound in a wooded landscape (Unknown, German school, late 18th century

Flute Sonata in B flat major Anh.4 (1790-92, Beethoven aged 21)

Dedication unknown
Duration 25′

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Background and Critical Reception

This substantial four-movement work was found amongst Beethoven’s papers after his death, and was not published until 1906. Despite its location, there are a number of doubts over the authorship of the piece – which appears not to have been in Beethoven’s own handwriting, according to biographer Alexander Thayer.

Barry Cooper, writing in the ‘Rarities’ booklet accompanying DG’s New Complete Edition of Beethoven, makes several useful points. He notes a ‘few awkward moments that could betray inexperience’, and says ‘its authenticity cannot yet be excluded completely, if it is a very early work’. Yet in the other corner there are ‘far fewer articulation markings than in even Beethoven’s earliest known works’, and the scribe ‘was also the composer’, which for Cooper offers the final proof that Beethoven was ultimately not involved.

If it was indeed Beethoven who wrote this work it is thought it would date between 1790 and 1792 – which would plausibly make the dedicatee the flautist son of the Westerholt-Gysenberg family, who Beethoven had included as part of his equally substantial Trio for Flute, Bassoon and Piano a few years earlier.

Thoughts

This substantial piece is quite hyperactive in its first few minutes, when it feels like there are too many notes, but the mood is bright and positive. The music gradually settles, passing through quite an adventurous development section where the dynamic changes, from quite a pastoral mood which then darkens as Beethoven shifts into the minor key.

The second movement, a Polacca, sets out on a strident path, in the same key of B flat major. Both instruments are close together, complementing each other’s melodic movements. The theme is a bit more rustic but the polonaise attributes are not obvious.

The slow movement brings the music to rest, and offers a change of scenery in E flat major. The final movement finds the players close again for a bright theme on which the players then expand with four variations. Even the minor key variation, the third, doesn’t really cloud the sunny exterior too much. By Beethoven’s standards so far it does feel like a relatively standard theme and variations, but they end with a flourish and a relatively restful coda.

Recordings used

Michel Debost (flute), Christian Ivaldi (piano) (Warner Classics)
Emmanuel Pahud (flute), Eric Le Sage (piano) (Auvidis Valois)
Severino Gazzelloni (flute), Bruno Canino (piano) (DG)

A trio of excellent performances here, each of which serves the sonata very well. The top choice by a whisker would be the ever-stylish Emmanuel Pahud and Eric Le Sage, though Severino Gazzelloni and Bruno Canino run them close with their close-knit partnership, which is particularly beautiful in the slow movement.

Spotify links

Michel Debost, Christian Ivaldi

Emmanuel Pahud, Eric Le Sage

Severino Gazzelloni, Bruno Canino

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 1792 Haydn Symphony no.98 in B flat major

Next up Primo amore piacer del ciel

Listening to Beethoven #2 – Schilderung eines Mädchens


This Peanuts strip was first published on December 16, 1977, drawn by Charles M. Schulz (c)PNTS

Schilderung eines Mädchens WoO 107 (“Schildern, willst du Freund, soll ich dir Elisen?”) for voice and piano (1783, Beethoven aged 12)

Dedication not known
Text Unattributed
Duration 0’35

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Background and Critical Reception

In his landmark biography of Beethoven, Alexander Thayer tells of how, by the age of 12, he was the ‘cembalist in the orchestra’. This was an important position within the Bonn Court orchestra for keyboard – presumably harpsichord rather than fortepiano – from which Beethoven would conduct the orchestra in rehearsals, filling a gap while the Electoral Kapellmeister was absent on a journey ‘of several months’.

The suggestion is that in this position lies the root of Beethoven’s powerful music, where he had to play up in volume to make himself heard. It gave him little time for composition, however, until the Kapellmeister returned – whereupon this short song was written and printed.

Thoughts

The first of many brief forays into song for Beethoven, Schilderung eines Mädchens (loosely translated as Portrayal of a Maiden) is almost over before it begins. It has a relatively high line, and a bold and bright melody. The young composer may be just getting a feel for how the voice behaves, but his instincts already appear to be sound.

Recordings used

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baritone) and Jörg Demus (piano)
Peter Schreier (tenor) and Walter Olbertz (piano)
Hermann Prey (baritone) and Leonard Hokanson (piano)

All three recordings are in a different key. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau is full-bodied in E major, but tenor Peter Schreier raises the tonality up to G with a brightly voiced account. Hermann Prey‘s account is very much slower (almost twice as long!). Luxurious in tone, it is beautifully sung but really stretches the words out. Leonard Hokanson shadows his every move.

Spotify links

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Jörg Demus:

Peter Schreier and Walter Olbertz:

Hermann Prey and Leonard Hokanson:

 

Also written in 1783 Mozart Duos for violin and viola, K423 & K424

Next up Fugue in D major