Listening to Beethoven #75 – Variations on ‘Là ci darem la mano’ from Mozart’s ‘Don Giovanni’

Portrait of Francisco D’Andrade in the title role of Don Giovanni by Max Slevogt (1912) / Young Beethoven

Variations on ‘Là ci darem la mano’ from Mozart’s ‘Don Giovanni’ WoO 28 for 2 oboes and cor anglais (c1795, Beethoven aged 24)

Dedication Not known
Duration 9′

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

This set of variations is closely related to the Trio in C major for the same instrumental combination, published later in Beethoven’s life as Op.87. The unusual trio of two oboes and cor anglais appears to have been inspired by Johann Wenth, a contemporary oboist and composer.

It is possible these variations were intended as a finale to the bigger work, sharing as they do the overall key of C major. There are eight variations and a coda.

Thoughts

Beethoven has an ability of making this trio sound like a much bigger ensemble right from the off. The theme gets a relatively polite outing, but soon Beethoven rolls his sleeves up to have some fun. Variation 2 gives the cor anglais a thorough workout with a very busy part in triplets, then a gentle Andante and spikier fourth variation work the players’ control.

The oboe has a flurry of notes marked ‘leggiero’ (‘lightly’) for the fifth variation, a real exercise in breath control, before the doleful tones of the cor anglais come to the fore in a straight faced minor-key variation.

To offset this, Beethoven writes a spiky and witty seventh variation, before the rich colours of the flowing eighth variation. A substantial coda follows, with a perky fugue that shows Beethoven putting into practice his recent teaching from Albrechtsberger. The three instruments then move in stepwise fashion before the piece fades to a graceful and more thoughtful close.

It is easy to see the link between this work and the Trio in C Op.87 for the same instrumental combination and mood, and these variations could effectively form an encore for that piece. They show Beethoven can write attractively and very skilfully for domestic music making, which like the best chamber music proves equally effective in concert as it does in private.

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 8 to 16

The recording led by Heinz Holliger has aged a little but is still a lot of fun. Les Vents Français substitute the second oboe and cor anglais parts for a clarinet and bassoon, which gives a more rounded texture. The Consortium Classicum version, like their account of the Trio Op.87, is very well played too.

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 Haydn Berenice, che fai Hob.XXIVa:10

Next up 6 Minuets WoO 10

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