Listening to Beethoven #145 – Piano Sonata no.10 in G major Op.14/2

Woman at a Window by Caspar David Friedrich (1822) The woman in question is the artist’s wife

Piano Sonata no.9 in E major Op.14/1 for piano (1798-99, Beethoven aged 28)

1 Allegro
2 Andante
3 Scherzo: Allegro assai

Dedication Baroness Josephine von Braun
Duration 17′

Listen

written by Ben Hogwood

Background and Critical Reception

‘An exquisite little work’. The verdict of esteemed musicologist Donald Tovey, proving that in the lesser-known piano sonatas of Beethoven, there are gems to be discovered.

Lewis Lockwood writes of this piece as a ‘paired opposite’ to Op.14/1, encountered yesterday, describing it as ‘a foray into the smaller-sonata world; it is almost a sonatina…with a charming first movement…a slow, simple C major variation movement and a curt finale marked Scherzo that is actually a Rondo.

Thoughts

This piece has an innocuous beginning, floating in as though from the outside with a dreamy melody on the right hand. Beethoven settles immediately into an easy flowing style, bringing Bach to mind at the very end as the piece resolves in the manner of one of his keyboard preludes.

The second movement is a lightly playful march, slow but resolute – and with an offbeat emphasis that makes you feel Beethoven is not quite walking in a straight line. The silences keep the listener on the edge, though, as though Beethoven intends to make you jump sooner or later! He does exactly that at the end, having proceeded through just three charming variations.

The third movement is stop-start, phrased like an irregular story. When it flows it is incessant and brimming with enthusiasm, but often Beethoven will stop the flow for a shorter phrase, an aside to the listener, emphasising the human aspect of how the piano phrases work. Any parallels this time would be more with C.P.E. Bach in his free, ‘fantasia’ way of thinking.

Recordings used and Spotify links

Emil Gilels (Deutsche Grammophon)
Alfred Brendel (Philips)
András Schiff (ECM)
Angela Hewitt (Hyperion)
Paul Badura-Skoda (Arcana)
Stephen Kovacevich (EMI)
Igor Levit (Sony Classical)
Claudio Arrau (Philips)

The sense of enjoyment coarses through each of the selected readings of this sonata. Some, like András Schiff or Emil Gilels, take their time with the first movement but retain a special intimacy throughout. Paul Badura-Skoda enjoys the surprise element at the end of the second movement, as does Angela Hewitt, while the throwaway nature of the final bars of the piece are relished by the likes of Claudio Arrau.

You can hear clips of Hewitt’s recording at the Hyperion website

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 1799 Ferdinando Paer La Camila ossia il Sotteraneo

Next up 8 Variations on ‘Tändeln und Scherzen’ WoO 76

Listening to Beethoven #144 – Piano Sonata no.9 in E major Op.14/1

Tageszeitenzyklus: Der Morgen (The times of day: The morning) by Caspar David Friedrich

Piano Sonata no.9 in E major Op.14/1 for piano (1798-99, Beethoven aged 28)

1 Allegro
2 Allegretto
3 Allegro comodo

Dedication Baroness Josephine von Braun
Duration 14′

Listen

written by Ben Hogwood

Background and Critical Reception

Beethoven made a rapid return to the piano sonata in 1799, publishing another two works as his Op.14 – moving on quickly from the Pathétique sonata. These pieces are slighter than that particular work, leading Angela Hewitt to speculate that they may originally have been intended for publication together, but were kept apart because of their musical differences.

Hewitt also notes the suitability of Beethoven’s writing for a string quartet – as does Lewis Lockwood, who suggests the piece may have begun life in that way before becoming a piano sonata. That suspicion would be confirmed three years later when Beethoven himself arranged the sonata as a quartet, transposing it up a tone to F major. This, says Lockwood, allowed him ‘to take advantage of the viola’s and cello’s open C strings while adjusting sonorities and dynamics to fit the medium and make the work idiomatic for quartet’.

As Lockwood reports, this was a matter of some importance, confirmed by Beethoven himself in a letter: ‘I firmly maintain that only Mozart himself could translate his works from the keyboard to other instruments, and Haydn could do this too – and without wishing to compare myself to these two great men, I claim the same about my keyboard sonatas.’

Thoughts

There is an attractive rocking motion in play at the start of this work, and an intimacy giving the listener a one-on-one experience. It is set in a relatively unusual key for Beethoven until now, E major – which gives it an open sound. Often the right hand is left alone as a sole melody, with a wandering phrase giving it the profile of a Baroque invention.

The second movement is inward looking, with a gentle lilt to the rhythm as Beethoven switches to the minor key. This is a small but decisive shift, the music attractive but more thoughtful.

By contrast, the third movement throws off these preoccupations with a lovely, flowing triple time theme. Reverting back to the major key, Beethoven uses a figuration he would revisit a whole lot later for his Piano Sonata no.30, also in the same key. Again the suggestion, with the stripped back parts, is that Beethoven has been immersing himself in music of the Baroque period, Bach and Handel in particular.

Recordings used and Spotify links

Emil Gilels (Deutsche Grammophon)
Alfred Brendel (Philips)
András Schiff (ECM)
Angela Hewitt (Hyperion)
Paul Badura-Skoda (Arcana)
Stephen Kovacevich (EMI)
Igor Levit (Sony Classical)

Once again some fine versions are on offer. Alfred Brendel is perhaps the most eloquent, and Hewitt herself is fluent too. Paul Badura-Skoda, playing a Broadwood piano from around the time this piece was written, appears to be in something of a rush, with quick tempi for the outer movements and no repeats. His version is fun, however.

You can hear clips of Hewitt’s recording at the Hyperion website

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 1799 Méhul Adrien, Ariodant

Next up Piano Sonata no.10 in G major Op.14/2

Listening to Beethoven #81 – String Quintet in E flat major Op.4

View of the Kohlmarkt from Michael-platz by Karl Schütz (18th century)

String Quintet in E flat major Op.4 (1795, Beethoven aged 24)

1. Allegro con brio
2. Andante 3. Menuetto più Allegretto – Trio 4. Presto

Dedication unknown
Duration 29’30”

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

In which Beethoven returns to his Octet for wind in E flat major, eventually published as Op.103. At this point however the work was only privately known, so Beethoven followed the example of Mozart in reworking a work for wind ensemble for string quintet, part of a response to a double commission from Count Apponyi. Mozart’s revised work was the conversion of the Serenade in C minor K388, also for octet, into the String Quintet published as K406.

In spite of their acknowledged quality, Beethoven’s two string quintets are relatively neglected, in spite of their acknowledged quality. In them Beethoven skirts around the string quartet, writing for it directly but disguising his efforts either with the addition of two horns or an extra viola. In a sense he was playing it safe until fully ready to enter a pressurised arena.

Lewis Lockwood notes how Beethoven’s String Quintet makes considerable advances on the music of the Octet. “Especially revealing of Beethoven’s musical growth from the final apprentice years to his first true maturity in Vienna is his revision of the Wind Octet as a String Quintet”, he writes. “The whole revision – which is no mere arrangement but a true recomposition – exemplifies Beethoven’s command even more than does his use of Bonn material in the piano sonatas of Op.2.”

Richard Wigmore writes perceptive notes for the recording made by the Nash Ensemble for Hyperion. He notes Beethoven’s new-found maturity to be ‘not least because of his intensive contact with Haydn’s latest symphonies and string quartets’, and shows how those encounters are manifested in the Quintet. “No-one could guess”, he says, “that this music – or large tracts of it – was not originally conceived for strings.”

Thoughts

The neglect in which the Op.4 string quintet is held is surprising, given its obvious quality. Pleasant though the material for the wind octet is, this feels like a real step up in terms of structural command and instrumental invention. The mood is much more purposeful, the dialogue between the strings containing music of deep substance and featuring impressive development of Beethoven’s themes.

The first movement is tautly argued, its ten minutes passing quickly with concentrated musical thought. The second movement finds a much more tender spot, a lovely Andante where time slows and the subject becomes more lyrical.

The scherzo is closely linked to the Octet, and its theme flits across the five instruments, an insistent rhythm working away like a persistent insect. The big difference is in the two trio sections. The first is what seems like a throwaway phrase that Beethoven works between the parts beautifully, while the second – for quartet alone – is quite chromatic, the melody sliding by step but very fluid in its execution.

The finale is quick and wraps up the quintet with a nice balance of wit and purpose.

Recordings used and Spotify links

Nash Ensemble [Marianne Thorsen, Malin Broman (violins), Lawrence Power, Philip Dukes (violas), Paul Watkins (cello)] (Hyperion)

Endellion String Quartet [Andrew Watkinson, Ralph de Souza (violins), Garfield Jackson (viola), David Waterman (cello)], David Adams (viola) (Warner Classics)

Two excellent recordings.

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 Symphony no.103 in E flat major ‘Drum Roll’

Next up Seufzer eines Ungeliebten und Gegenliebe

Listening to Beethoven #28 – Violin Concerto movement in C major


Bönn’sches Ballstück, 1754 by Francois Rousseau © UNESCO-Welterbestätte Schlösser Augustusburg und Falkenlust Brühl

Violin Concerto movement in C major WoO 5(1790-2, Beethoven aged 21)

Dedication not known
Duration 15′

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

This is Beethoven’s first attempt at writing a violin concerto, which went as far as 259 bars. The fragment of a first movement is kept in a museum in Vienna, and debate continues as to whether it is part of a single movement or an entire concerto.

Lewis Lockwood thinks it may date from the early Vienna years, but the narrowest time frame available is between 1790 and 1792 – which may mean it predates Beethoven’s departure from Bonn.

Several scholars have attempted to complete the work – but the only official edition came in 1961 from Willy Hess, the admired Beethoven scholar who also completed the E-flat major Piano Concerto we have already heard. The orchestration is straightforward – the violinist accompanied by a chamber orchestra with the strings augmented by flute and pairs of oboes, bassoons and horns.

Thoughts

The musical language of this fragment is quite polite, starting with a genial theme from the orchestra in unison. Beethoven fleshes this out, before the violin rather sneaks in around the 3’30” mark. Once arrived, though, the soloist takes over, leading the orchestra in an attractive if straightforward discourse. The tunes are nice but ultimately less memorable than others Beethoven was writing at the time.

Recordings used

Gidon Kremer, London Symphony Orchestra / Emil Tchakarov (DG)

Jakub Junek, Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra / Marek Štilec (Naxos)

Gidon Kremer plays a substantial completion by Wilfried Fischer, lasting a quarter of an hour and twice the length of the version from Jakub Junek on Naxos. Despite Kremer’s lovely tone it is a little bit overdone, especially with the dimensions of the cadenza towards the end. Jakub Junek’s version is nicely balanced with the Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra.

Spotify links

Gidon Kremer, London Symphony Orchestra / Emil Tchakarov (DG)

Jakub Junek, Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra / Marek Štilec (Naxos)

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 #18 – Cantata on the Accession of Emperor Leopold II WoO88


The Coronation of Leopold II at Bratislava (1790) Austrian School, 18th century, Mestske Galerie, Bratislava

Cantata on the Accession of Emperor Leopold II WoO88 for soloists, choir and orchestra (1790, Beethoven aged 19)

Dedication Emperor Leopold II
Text Severin Anton Averdonk
Duration 23’30”

Watch

Chen Reiss sings the flagship aria Fliese, Wonnezahren, fliese (Flow, tears of joy, flow), the second number in the score:

Background and Critical Reception

When Beethoven received his commission for the Cantata on the Death of Emperor Joseph II, he was also enlisted to help celebrate the accession of his successor, Leopold II, again with text from Severin Anton Averdonk.. In the event neither piece fulfilled their function, due mainly to time constraints but also – possibly – due to the difficulty of learning and rehearsing new and challenging music for the time.

Thus the cantata was not heard in Beethoven’s lifetime, not emerging until the 1880s. Lewis Lockwood argues for its acceptance as a positive, optimistic counterpart to the tragedy of the Joseph cantata, anticipating in this early period Beethoven’s later way of contrasting two opposed expressive domains in consecutive works in the same genre.

He also notes that ‘though less majestic, it possesses the expressive chorus Stürzet nieder, Millionen (Prostrate yourselves, O millions) which textually associates with Schiller’s Ode to Joy and the Ninth Symphony by means of its passage asking the question ‘Stürzet nieder, Millionen?’ (‘O ye millions, do you fall prostrate?’)

One aria in particular stands out – the substantial Fliese, Wonnezahren, fliese (Flow, tears of joy, flow), written for soprano soloist with key parts for flute and cello, drawn from the orchestra. In his notes for the Hyperion recording of the piece, Nicholas Marston suggests Beethoven’s operatic experience led him to include this ensemble number.

Thoughts

The Cantata on the Accession of Emperor II is a much slighter work than its predecessor mourning the death of Emperor Joseph II, being half the length of that piece. Nor does it quite sustain the high level of feeling Beethoven poured into that work. Having said that it comfortably fulfils its function as a celebratory piece, and demonstrates once again how the composer is fully at home working with larger forces.

There is a strong sense of occasion from the start, through the hushed delivery from both soprano and chorus. The music then swells into more obvious pomp and celebration, now in a ‘pure’ C major as opposed to the fraught C minor of the Joseph cantata. This is surely not a coincidence, and as Marston also notes, it anticipates a similar tactic used in the movement from darkness to light in the Fifth Symphony. Fliese, Wonnezahren, fliese, the big aria, pushes forward with an optimistic look to the future rather than the caught under the heavy tread of the past. It includes some sparkling writing for the soprano soloist that culminates with a high E flat towards the end.

Later the choral writing is more red-blooded, setting the translated text ‘Look up to the lord of thrones who brought you this salvation’. All soloists and high choir are united in their praise of the new leader.

It is a shame for Beethoven that this music was not heard at the time of Leopold’s accession, for while this work does not quite reach the levels of the Joseph cantata it is still a fine and perfectly functioning celebration for the new emperor.

Performances

Charlotte Margiono (soprano), Veronica Verebely (soprano), William Shimell (bass), Ulrike Helzel (contralto), Clemens Bieber (tenor), Chorus and Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin / Christian Thielemann (DG)

Janice Watson (soprano), Jean Rigby (contralto), John Mark Ainsley (tenor), José Van Dam (bass), Corydon Singers and Orchestra / Matthew Best (Hyperion)

Juha Kotilainen (bass), Reetta Haavisto (soprano), Chorus Cathedralis Aboensis, Turku Philharmonic Orchestra / Leif Segerstam (Naxos)

As with the Joseph Cantata, recordings of Beethoven’s ceremonial music for Leopold II were thin on the ground until the release of Matthew Best‘s account with the Corydon Singers and Orchestra by Hyperion in 1996. It is an excellent performance, capped by exceptional female soloists in Janice Watson and Jean Rigby.

Again the performance from Christian Thielemann for DG is a glossier affair, but it is very fine indeed, and Charlotte Margiono is a very fine soprano soloist.

The recent version from Leif Segerstram for Naxos delivers a strong impact too, with full bodied choral singing.

Spotify links

The Hyperion version conducted by Matthew Best is not available on Spotify but clips can be heard on the Hyperion website here

Christian Thielemann (tracks 8-13)

Leif Segerstam (tracks 8-13)

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 1790 Mozart Così fan tutte

Next up Klage