Listening to Beethoven #87 – 12 Minuets

Court banquet in the Redoutensaal on the occasion of the marriage of Joseph II and Isabella of Bourbon-Parma by Martin van Meytens

12 Minuets, WoO 7 for orchestra (1795, Beethoven aged 24

no.1 in D major
no.2 in B flat major
no.3 in G major
no.4 in E flat major
no.5 in C major
no.6 in A major
no.7 in D major
no.8 in B flat major
no.9 in G major
no.10 in E flat major
no.11 in C major
no.12 in F major

Dedication Vienna Artists’ Pension Society
Duration 25′

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

These dances are companions to the 12 German Dances WoO 8, and were written for the masked ball in the Large Redoutensaal, Vienna, on 22 November 1795. It is thought Beethoven had Haydn‘s sponsorship for this event – his teacher had composed for the event three years earlier, a charitable donation. It is also thought Haydn would have attended the 1795 ball.

The minuets last around 2 minutes each, and as with Beethoven’s previous dances they are easy on the ear and light on the feet – despite being composed for a relatively large orchestra, with trumpets and timpani. Daniel Heartz, in a characteristically detailed appraisal of the dances, finds them to be longer than Haydn’s examples, and notes how their choices of key tend to be a third apart.

Thoughts

There is nothing too daring here given the function they were written for, but at the same time there is an embarrassment of good tunes and danceable beats for the guests.

The third minuet, in G major, is especially lively, and has some lovely in its middle section with a pair of horns. The fourth, in E flat major, has a beefy main them which contrasts with the delightful clarinet solo in its middle section. After a while there is a danger that all the different minuets will feel like one long dance, but Beethoven varies the scoring and melodic material enough to avoid that.

Minuet no.9 is brightly scored for the wind, while no.10, returning to E flat major, is like many of these pieces still in thrall to Haydn. The last, as is Beethoven’s wont, features the shrill piccolo in its middle section, the middle of a regal F major sandwich.

Recordings used and Spotify links

The playlist below includes recordings from Philharmonia Hungarica / Hans Ludwig Hirsch (Warner Classics), the Swedish Chamber Orchestra conducted by Thomas Dausgaard on Simax and the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields under Sir Neville Marriner (Philips)

Thomas Dausgaard’s crisp versions are once again a lot of fun, if a touch aggressive at times – the dancers might have a couple of bruised feet afterwards! Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields are typically stylish and colourful. Once again the Philharmonia Hungarica and Hans Ludwig Hirsch are more relaxed in their steps.

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 1795 Pleyel Keyboard Trio in D major B461

Next up Zärtliche Liebe WoO123

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.

Spotify links

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 #11 – Piano Quartet in C major WoO 36/3

How Bonn looked around the year 1790. Artist unknown

Piano Quartet in C major WoO 36/3 for piano, violin, viola and cello (1785, Beethoven aged 14)

Dedication Thought to be Elector Maximilian Friedrich
Duration 17′

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

There is a good deal of speculation that Beethoven played and improvised in front of Mozart when he journeyed from Bonn to Vienna in 1786. Reports on what actually happened – and indeed if the two composers met at all – are sketchy. Misha Donat, in his booklet notes to one of the recordings used here, says that ‘if, as we may assume, he (Beethoven) also showed him some of his compositions, they would almost certainly have included a set of three Piano Quartets, completed some two years earlier’.

These first examples of Beethoven chamber music set out in a musical idiom not used until now. This is surely a deliberate move by the 14-year-old composer, given the pressure he would have endured in either the string quartet or piano trio. Haydn and Mozart had made giant steps in those forms; the piano quartet – piano, violin, viola and cello – was untried, and it seems these early works even predate the two masterpieces offered by Mozart later the same year.

When published by Artaria, the works were re-ordered – but our listening reverts to Beethoven’s original plan, beginning with the C major work. When they were published – after Beethoven’s death – Lewis Lockwood notes they ‘so surprised even knowledgeable observers, including Ferdinand Ries, that they doubted Beethoven had written them at all, let alone at age fourteen’.

Beethoven thought highly enough of the first work in C major to recycle some of its themes in his Piano Sonata in F minor Op.2/1. Lockwood notes the work to be ‘clearly modelled on Mozart’s C major Violin Sonata, K296. You can decide for yourself here:

Thoughts

There is an attractive hustle and bustle about the C major Piano Quartet right from the start. Its first theme of the first movement (marked Allegro vivace – fast and lively) is a simple one, drawing the Mozart comparisons with its reliance on the notes of the ‘home’ C major chord. The piano has all the dressing, the strings content to provide accompanying roles as they might in a concert. The second theme is more lyrical but continues the piano’s dominance.

For the second movement we retreat to a slow tempo and close-knit scoring, the strings providing rich harmonic support to the piano’s melody. Soon the sweet tone of the violin takes the lead, bringing tenderness to the central section before all three strings enjoy reacquainting us with the first theme, Beethoven’s scoring nicely balanced at this point.

The third movement finale has a resolute quality. Led by the piano with a bright theme, it busies itself with developing that idea and introducing a fresh second theme, played on the piano over pizzicato (plucked) strings. The theme passes to violin – some of its most attractive music – before ending in a whirl of positivity.

Positive is definitely the word to describe this Piano Quartet, for it is a breezy first outing into chamber music for Beethoven. Even though he appears to be using Mozart as a model, there is more than enough evidence that he is at ease in this form, with an individual voice about to emerge.

Recordings used and Spotify links

Christoph Eschenbach (piano), Members of the Amadeus Quartet (Deutsche Grammophon) – tracks 7 to 9:

Anthony Goldstone (piano), Cummings String Trio (Meridian) – tracks 1 to 3:

New Zealand Piano Quartet (Naxos) – tracks 1 to 3:

Christoph Eschenbach and the Amadeus Quartet fly out of the traps in the first movement. The piano sound is a little ‘clangy’ at times, possibly due to the age of the recording, but this is a performance with plenty of energy.

The Goldstone / Cummings version goes off at quite a lick too. It has a thoughtful and considered slow movement, really nicely performed, while the third movement bustles along.

Finally the New Zealand Piano Quartet give a nicely nuanced performance on Naxos, with the best recording of the three sampled versions. Their interpretation is light on its feet.

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 1785 Mozart Piano Concertos nos. 20 & 21

Next up Piano Quartet in E flat major WoO 36/1

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

Listening to Beethoven #9 – Rondo in C major


Beethoven statuette – plaster cast by Gebrüder Micheli based on an original by Gustav Adolf Landgrebe (Beethoven-Haus, Bonn)

Rondo in C major WoO 48 for piano (1783, Beethoven aged 12)

Dedication not known
Duration 2’40

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

March 1783 saw a tragic time for the Beethoven family, as a younger brother to Ludwig, Franz Georg van Beethoven, died at the age of two. This precipitated a family visit from Rotterdam of the dead child’s sister, Maria Magdalena, who arranged for a return visit from Beethoven and the opportunity to perform new works.

With the three Electoral sonatas on the table Beethoven was really hitting his stride with writing for the piano, and with a first concerto just around the corner he produced another short Rondo for solo piano. Its exact composition date is not known, only that Beethoven was ‘around 12’.

Daniel Heartz describes the Rondo as having a ‘catchy and quite folk-like theme’. He says that ‘the model is clearly the second and last movement of Mozart’s Violin and Piano Sonata in G major K301’. Explaining in detail, he declares ‘The correspondence is evident not only in the theme but also in the way it is treated to rapid alternation of major and minor forms. Beyond looking up to Mozart as a legendary performer, Beethoven obviously took him as a model for composition. You can compare for yourself here:

Thoughts

Daniel Heartz’s observation is a fascinating one, and on listening it rings true. The purity of Beethoven’s theme is closely aligned to Mozart’s, though there is a slight glint in the eye at times, especially with one or two of its harmonic shifts. The use of C major is also in line with one of Mozart’s most popular piano sonatas.

Again, this is very surefooted music for a 12-year-old boy to be writing!

Recordings used

Mikhail Pletnev (DG); Jenő Jandó (Naxos), Ronald Brautigam (BIS)

Jenő Jandó takes the ‘Allegretto’ tempo marking more to heart with a slower reading which initially sounds quite pedestrian but makes sense when it has settled down. Ronald Brautigam goes for a very similar approach, adding a little more mystery to the middle section. Mikhail Pletnev is quite light hearted, and affectionate at the end – but his tempo choice is much faster than Beethoven indicates.

Spotify links

Mikhail Pletnev

Jenő Jandó

Ronald Brautigam

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 Paisiello La passione di Gesù Cristo

Next up Piano Concerto in E flat major WoO 4