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
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.
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 Français – François 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.
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Also written in 1795 Haydn Berenice, che fai Hob.XXIVa:10
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