Listening to Beethoven #45 – Oboe Concerto in F major, second movement


The Beethoven-Haus, Bonn Picture by Dr. Avishai Teicher

Oboe Concerto in F major (slow movement) Hess 12 (1792-3, Beethoven aged 22)

Dedication not known
Duration 7′

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

The Oboe Concerto is one of the works sent by Haydn to the Elector of Cologne, showing the progress of his pupil Beethoven since he started with him in Vienna. What he did not realise at the time was that most of the works, including the Octet previously heard, had already been written in Bonn and were all but complete.

Sadly only the slow movement of the concerto, in B flat major, has survived in full, and even then only in sketch form. There is an outline of melody from the beginning to the end, but the piece needed extensive revision for any performance to be possible. This came from a couple of sources, but the one finished by Charles Joseph Lehrer, and orchestrated by Willem, is the only one to be recorded so far.

Daniel Heartz, in his superb book Mozart, Haydn and Early Beethoven 1781-1802, writes that ‘incipits of the three movements survive on a sheet in the Beethoven Archive at Bonn. The two oboists in electoral service were Georg Libsich and Joseph Welsch. From them the young composer could have learned the instrument’s strengths and limitations. His experiences in Bonn, including playing in the court orchestra, endowed him with a fine feeling for the technical and timbral possibilities of all the instruments.’

Thoughts

This fragment is an intriguing listen, even with the knowledge that a good deal of this work is not by Beethoven himself. Initially the tone is serious but relaxes as the strings expand with a soft-voiced introduction, teeing up the oboe nicely.

The main melody is attractive, and soon the oboe is reaching into the upper end of its register, well above the strings. The soloist has plenty of opportunity to show off, especially in a cadenza towards the end, which is nicely cued up by some spicier harmony from the strings. After the cadenza a short statement of the tender theme is all that is required.

Recordings used

Bart Schneemann, Radio Chamber Orchestra / Jan Willem de Vriend (Channel Classics)

Bart Schneemann gives an excellent account, with Jan Willem de Vriend balancing the small Radio Chamber Orchestra nicely. The slow movement of the concerto is tagged on to a second volume of oboe concertos by the German 18th century composer oboist and composer Ludwig August Lebrun, who died three years before Beethoven’s concerto was sent back to Bonn.

Spotify links

Bart Schneemann, Radio Chamber Orchestra / Jan Willem de Vriend

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 1793 Haydn 3 String Quartets, Op.71

Next up Que le temps me dure (version 1)

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