Listening to Beethoven #58 – Trio for 2 oboes and cor anglais Op.87

Vienna by Johann Ziegler (c1749-1812)

Trio for two oboes and cor anglais Op.87 (c1795, Beethoven aged 24)

Dedication Not known
Duration 22′

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

Beethoven’s decision to write for the unusual trio of two oboes and cor anglais appears to have been inspired by oboist and composer Johann Wenth. It is thought Beethoven attended a concert in December 1793 where Wenth’s oboe trio was performed. Given the oboists with which Beethoven was already in contact in Vienna at the time, he set about writing a piece for them.

The exact dates of composition for the trio are not known – which is the case with his other work for this instrumental combination, a set of variations on an aria from Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Indeed the variations may have been intended as a final movement for the Trio, being in the same key of C major.

The only clue for a year of composition lies in the manuscript the composer used, which going by the paper is thought to be 1795, with the trio itself published by Artaria 11 years later. There is also a version for strings, apparently sanctioned by Beethoven.

Thoughts

The combination of two oboes and cor anglais is rare in classical music nowadays, and as a result Beethoven’s trio is not often heard. This is a shame for it is an attractive and brightly coloured piece, tuneful and with appealing dialogue between the players. It may have been written for domestic music making, but to these string-playing ears it sounds like quite a taxing affair for wind players at 22 minutes.

It is as light on the ear as its instrumentation implies, and the easygoing nature of the first movement includes a fair bit of subtle wit. The 11-minute first movement does mean the piece is top heavy – effectively in two parts.

The second part has a nice, softly voiced slow movement in F major where the oboes’ lyrical qualities come through readily. This is complemented by a brisk minuet with its own lilting trio section, then a lively finale with a chattering tune.

The trio is an undemanding but thoroughly pleasant listen.

Recordings used and Spotify links

Heinz Holliger, Hans Elhorst (oboes), Maurice Bourgue (oboe) (Deutsche Grammophon)

Consortium Classicum (Christian Hartmann and Gernot Schmalfuß (oboes), Matthias Grünewald (cor anglais)

Les Vents FrançaisFrançois Leleux (oboe), Paul Meyer (clarinet), Gilbert Audin (bassoon) (Warner Classics) – tracks 1 to 4

Les Vents Français substitute the second oboe and cor anglais parts for a clarinet and bassoon, adding more depth to the sound. The Consortium Classicum version is very nicely played, as is the version from DG’s starry cast of Holliger, Elhorst and Bourgue . This one does however show its age, recorded in 1979.

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 Albrechtsberger 6 String Trios Op.9

Next up Piano Sonata no.1 in F minor Op.2/1