Listening to Beethoven #97 – Erlkönig


Goethe in c1775

Erlkönig for voice and piano (1794-6, Beethoven aged 25)

Dedication not known
Text Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Duration 3’30”

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

Those readers who know the songs of Schubert will recognise Erlkönig as one of the composer’s most popular songs, a tumultuous setting of Goethe’s heroic poem. Yet here is a response from Beethoven some twenty years earlier, a fragment completed for publication by Reinhold Becker.

The Unheard Beethoven site helpfully goes into detail on Becker’s amendments and extensions to Beethoven’s work, adding a downloadable score and audio. It also presents the original, unmodified sketch, as written by Beethoven and transcribed by Gustav Nottebohm.

Thoughts

Beethoven’s setting is a pretty dramatic one, a turbulent piano introduction then shadowing the baritone’s bold melody. The key is D minor, which until now we have not heard Beethoven use. It is the ideal vehicle to convey the tragic-heroic text, and the composer keeps a keen air of occasion running throughout. The end is hollow on the part of the singer, who signs off with a whisper.

Recording used and Spotify link

Paul Armin Edelmann (baritone), Bernadette Bartos (piano) (Naxos)

You can compare notes with the Schubert setting below:

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 1796 Haydn Saper vorrei se m’ami Hob.XXVa:2

Next up Piano Sonata no.20 in G major Op.49/2

Listening to Beethoven #77 – Canon in G major

Plaster casts of Ludwig van Beethoven’s seals, probably made in the Beethoven House in Bonn © Beethoven-Haus Bonn

Canon in G major Hess 247 for three voices (1795, Beethoven aged 24)

Dedication not known
Duration 1’10”

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

The canons are a fascinating but very little-known part of Beethoven’s output – and they reveal plenty about him as a composer. Many of them are short pieces but often with a particular friend or person in mind, and often shot through with humour and witty musical play.

The first example we hear is for three ‘voices’ – as in, three distinct instrumental voices.

Thoughts

This short piece has an attractive lilt in triple time, rather like a Minuet – and . Beethoven repeats his idea several times, and it is catchy enough to have worked its way into your head by the end of its 70-second stay.

Recording used and Spotify link

Benjamin Lichtenegger, Lara Kusztrich, Luka Kusztrich (violins) (Naxos)

An attractively performed version.

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 Salieri Il mondo alla rovescia

Next up 6 Minuets WoO 10 (orchestral version)

Listening to Beethoven #73 – Fugue for string quartet in D minor (fragment)

Commemorative medal for Ludwig van Beethoven – silver medal, probably based on a design by Fritz Schwerdt © Beethoven-Haus Bonn

Fugue in D minor, Hess 245 for string quartet (1794-5, Beethoven aged 24)

Dedication not known
Duration 0’45”

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

A ‘fragmentary fugue’ is not necessarily a phrase to get the musical pulse racing, but since we are trying to cover everything Beethoven wrote, even the snippets are worth a listen.

This short excerpt also hails from Beethoven’s lessons with Albrechtsberger.

Thoughts

We return to the key of D minor, a popular selection for output from these lessons – but when the excerpt starts it feels like we have walked into a performance half way through.

Even at the end, in spite of the busy part writing, there is no resolution – so this is very much a scrap from the cutting room floor rather than something you would expect to see included in a concert.

Recordings used

Fine Arts Quartet (Naxos)

A very well played version – though it is far from complete, so difficult to judge.

Spotify links

Fine Arts Quartet

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 Hyacinth Jadin 3 Piano Sonatas Op.4

Next up Prelude and Fugue in C major Hess 31

Listening to Beethoven #72 – Prelude and Fugue in C major

Commemorative medal for Ludwig van Beethoven, 1927 – Silver medal from the Bavarian Main Mint based on a design by Josef Bernhart, Munich, 1927 © Beethoven-Haus Bonn

Prelude and fugue in C major, Hess 31 for string quartet (1794-5, Beethoven aged 24)

Dedication not known
Duration 5′

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

A third Prelude and Fugue from Beethoven’s lessons with Albrechtsberger in Vienna, 1794-5. By way of a reminder, Beethoven was taking lessons from the Austrian composer, whose relatively rigorous approach to working with counterpoint complemented the vocal teaching he was receiving from Salieri.

Beethoven had worked writing fugues in two or more parts, and here is another in four – with a short prelude added to the front.

Thoughts

During his lessons with Albrechtsberger it seems that Beethoven opens up a little more with every piece. This attractive Prelude and Fugue are outgoing from the start, with a very solid ground note on the cello beginning proceedings. After that the Prelude proceeds on its genial way, compact and very approachable. It ends on an open chord (G major)…

…which allows Beethoven to lead straight into the energetic fugu, back in C major. There is a strong pointer here towards one of his true masterpieces of counterpoint, the String Quartet in C major Op.59/3 ‘Razumovsky’, which he would publish in eleven years’ time.

Recordings used

Fine Arts Quartet (Naxos)

Endellion Quartet (Deutsche Grammophon)

Both ensembles give a full-bodied account of this piece, the Fine Arts noticeably louder while the Endellion have a bit more light and shade.

Spotify links

Fine Arts Quartet

Endellion Quartet

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 Hyacinth Jadin 3 Piano Sonatas Op.4

Next up Prelude and Fugue in C major Hess 31

Listening to Beethoven #71 – Prelude and Fugue in F major

Commemorative medal for Ludwig van Beethoven, 1927 – silver medal based on a design by Karl Goetz © Beethoven-Haus Bonn

Prelude and fugue in F major, Hess 30 for string quartet (1794-5, Beethoven aged 24)

Dedication not known
Duration 6′

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

Here we have more from the pen of Beethoven via the careful scrutiny of Johann Georg Albrechtsberger. This is another more substantial piece suggesting he has reached the required standard of counterpoint writing and that his teacher is now encouraging him to apply it to a bigger scale.

Thoughts

Beethoven must have studied the organ works of J.S. Bach at some point while under Albrechtsberger – at least, that is the natural conclusion of thought while enjoying the busy, breezy prelude to this pair of movements. The music bustles along happily, each of the four instruments interacting closely but with the whole piece in mind.

The fugue is equally upright, Beethoven’s confidence in his part writing clear for all to hear. The main subject is bold and colourful, and dominates proceedings – but there is plenty going on behind the scenes, the accompaniment full of references to the main tune.

Recordings used

Fine Arts Quartet (Naxos)

Endellion Quartet (Deutsche Grammophon)

The Fine Arts Quartet give a clearly voiced account of the Prelude, with plenty of gusto – which they also apply to the Fugue. Their new Naxos recording is brightly lit, more so than the Endellion Quartet, who are a little bit more relaxed at the start of the Prelude, allowing the energy to build over a greater span.

Spotify links

Fine Arts Quartet

Endellion Quartet

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 Friedrich Witt Horn Concerto in E flat major

Next up Prelude and Fugue in C major Hess 31