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Symphony No.1 in C major Op.21

Period of composition: 1799-early 1800. Date of Publication: December 1801, by Hoffmeister & Kuhnel, dedicated to Baron Gottfried van Swieten.

Background details:

After leaving Bonn in November 1792 to begin life as a pupil of Haydn in Vienna, we had to wait a further eight years for Beethoven to produce his first symphony. This reason for this delay has traditionally been put down to Beethoven’s respect for Mozart and Haydn, and his ambition to produce a work on equal terms with these symphonic masters. However Beethoven had considered symphonic composition earlier in his life, producing extensive sketches for a symphony in C in 1795/96 while he was studying with Albrechtsburger. Earlier still there is a sketch in C minor labeled ‘sinfonia’. Op. 21 was first performed on April 2nd 1800 at the Burgtheater in Vienna. Beethoven’s Septet, and one of his piano concertos (Op.15 or Op.19) were also performed. A correspondent from the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung was at the concert and described the symphony as having ‘considerable art, novelty and a wealth of ideas’, the only flaw being ‘the wind instruments were used too much, so that there was more harmony than orchestral music as a whole.’

Musical Outline:
Stylistically, the symphony is rather reserved work when compared to the emotion and raw passion of some of his other compositions of this period such as the ‘Sonata Pathetique’ Op.13, or the slow movements of Op.7 or Op.10 no.3. Clearly, Beethoven had decided to introduce himself to the symphonic world by staying on safe ground before venturing off to horizons new. The first movement opens with a slow introductory ‘Adagio molto’ before moving to a vigorous ‘Allegro con brio’ who’s first theme has been compared to that of Mozart’s ‘Jupiter’ symphony. The following slow movement isn’t particularly slow, being ‘Andante cantabile con moto’, and is almost the minuet that the third movement isn’t. It is in sonata form and is lightweight, although modern performances tend to add more breadth and gravity than is strictly required here. The third movement is titled ‘Menuetto: Allegro molto e vivace’, though it has the character more of a scherzo than a minuet. The final movement has great wit, with its famous ‘joke’ introduction (Adagio) that had its origins in the abandoned 1795 sketches, before the Haydnish ‘Allegro molto e vivace’. The piece ends in a thoroughly Beethovenish manner however, with the march-like coda.

Recommended Recordings:

I haven’t any exeptional recommendations, John Eliot Gardiner and the Orch. Rev. et Rom. (Archiv) offer good quick tempi but the sound lacks any ambience. The Hanover Band’s (Nimbus) pace in the first movement more relaxed but the sound is very ambient and colourful, although the brass could have more prominence. These are both period instrument versions.

Symphony No.2 in D major op.36

Period of composition: 1801-1802 Date of Publication: 1804, by Kunst und Industrie Comptior, dedicated to Prince Karl von Lichnowsky.

Background details:

If proof were needed that ‘the true artist creates out of his total experience’, as Denis Matthews put it, then one need only look at the circumstances surrounding the composition of op.36. For this brilliant and original piece was completed during Beethoven’s summer break in Heiligenstadt in 1802, the time of his greatest despair on realization that his increasing deafness could be a permanent affliction. The symphony was first performed on 5 April 1803 at a concert at the Theater an Der Wien which also included the premieres of Beethoven’s C minor piano concerto and oratario ‘Christus am Oelberge’. The critic present from the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung describe the new symphony typically, as “a work full of new, original ideas, of great strength, sensitive in orchestration and intellectual in concept, but one that would surely benefit from the abbreviation of some passages and the deletion [!] of others, for the modulations are entirely too eccentric.”

Musical Outline
The vigorous independence that Beethoven had shown in his chamber works had now surfaced in the world of the symphony, though it bears features reminicant of Mozart’s ‘Prague’ symphony. Thayer, who purposefully kept musical criticism to an absolute minimum in his ‘Life of Beethoven’ could not contain himself when discussing this composition – “a work whose grand and imposing introduction – brilliant Allegro, a Larghetto so lovely, so pure and amiably conceived…a Scherzo as merry, wayward, skipping and charming as anything possible…and a Finale, the very intoxication of a spirit ‘intoxicated with fire’- made it…an era both in the life of its author and in the history of instrumental music.” Passionate words from the usually reserved Thayer! After the opening call-to-attention, the slow introduction is rather more imposing than that of the first symphony with a powerful D minor climax that is reminicant of the opening of the first movement of the Ninth Symphony. The main Allegro has great drive with and ends with splendid coda. The lyrical Larghetto casts a backward glance at the previous century, with phrases that suggest Haydn or Mozart. It is however, a substantial and serious affair in sonata form and, like the First Symphony, withholds timpani and trumpets (the instruments of war!). With the third movement Beethoven acknowledges it as ‘Scherzo’ rather than labour it with the more traditional ‘Menuetto’ as he did with the First. This is pure Beethovenian humour, with a three note figure that is passed around the orchestra.The vitality of the finale (Allegro molto) is apparent from the explosive opening gesture. It is in sonata-form without repeats (the impression of a repeat occurs but this merely forms to opening of the development). The coda is massive, taking up more than a third of the whole movement. A reviewer in 1804 described this finale as “an uncivilized monster, a wounded dragon, refusing to die while bleeding to death, raging, striking in vain around itself with its agitated tail.” – fanciful, but perhaps appropriate!

Recommended Recordings:

I can recommend three excellent period instrument versions by The Hanover Band/Huggett (Nimbus), The Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique/Gardiner (Archiv) and The London Classical Players/Norrington (EMI).

Symphony No.3 in E-flat major, op.55 (“Eroica”)

Period of composition: 1803 (earliest sketches 1802, final touches beginning 1804). Date of Publication: 1806, by Kunst und Industrie Comptoir, dedicated to Prince Franz Joseph von Lobkowitz.

Background details:

Schindler states in his biography “Beethoven As I Knew Him” that it was the ambassador of the French Republic to the Austrian Court, General Bernadotte, who suggested that Beethoven should “honour the greatest hero of the age in a musical composition.” The hero being, of course, Napoleon Bonaparte, whom the republican Beethoven had admired for bringing political order out of the chaos of the bloody French revolution. However when Napoleon proceeded to crown himself Emperor, the enraged Beethoven, cursing the “new tyrant”, ripped the title page (enscribed simply with the words ‘Bonapart’ at the top and ‘Beethoven’ at the bottom) of his score in two and tossed it to the floor. The title page of a later score still exists with Naploeon’s name violently scribbled out by Beethoven himself. As a result of this, Beethoven eventually settled with the title ‘Heroic Symphony composed to celebrate the memory of a great man’. It is interesting that, in his later life, Beethoven’s attitude towards Napoleon became more sympathetic.

The Symphony received its first semi-public performance in April 1805 at the Theater an der Wien, with Beethoven as the conductor. The music was awaited with much anticipation for the story regarding its dedication were already well known. A critic present from the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung had the following to say: “This long, most difficult composition is an extremely drawn out, bold, and wild fantasy. Very often, though, the work seems to lose itself in musical anarchy” with “too many garish and bizarre elements.” No sign yet of Beethoven pandering to popular taste! When in 1817 the poet Christoph Kuffner asked Beethoven which was his favorite amongst the symphonies, his reply was ‘the Eroica’, though the Ninth was yet to come.

Musical Outline
The third Symphony was a demonstration of Beethoven’s desire to develop a new, more expanded form of composition at this time. The first movement in sonata form (Allegro con brio) opens simply with two arresting E-flat chords. From the sketches it is clear that the familiar first subject idea was fixed from the start, with a E-flat arpeggio turning to a mysterious C sharp. What follows is a wealth of subsidiary and transitional ideas that culminates in the overwhelming climax of the development. The coda brings us the first subject in its most ‘ideal’ form. This technique of ‘keeping the best until last’ was a development of Beethoven’s that assisted the forward progression of the music from beginning to end. Important to the correct portrayal of this movements character is a true observance of the ‘con brio’ marking. The modern tendency to play this piece ‘moderato’ undermines its fundamental drive and ‘electricity’.

Then follows the Marcia Funebre (Adagio assai). This piece caused much confusion for the early critics, and was not well liked, which may seem surprising considering its influence on later generations of composers. Many have pondered why B ‘killed off’ the hero by the second movement, but a symphony is not a biography depicting feelings rather than events. However there is a good logic to having a funeral march in a symphony dedicated to heroism: what greater hero is there than one who is a martyr to his cause? It proceeds in rondo form with the rumbling bass strings enhanced by the tragic wailing of the oboe. A more tender episode follows in C major which is developed into a triumphant fanfare. After the return of the march the second episode, the tragic heart of the piece begins – a double fugue. In the coda the march theme disintegrates and ends with a final agonising wail from the oboe.
The third movement is a scherzo (Allegro vivace). Its opening pianissimo on the strings follows logically after the grief of the March, and makes up half of the movement as a whole. With the melody carried by the flute or oboe in B flat or F major, the home E-flat is not achieved until the sudden but long-delayed double -forte passage. The main feature of the trio is the fanfare an the French horns (where Beethoven scores for three rather than the more usual pair of instruments).

For the finale (Allegro molto) we have a theme and variations. This theme had become something of a obsession with Beethoven, it first saw light in a set of Contredances (WoO14), then was used in the finale of his ballet ‘Die Gestopfe des Prometheus’ and then still further as the text for the piano variations Op35, before appearing in the Third Symphony. Such recycling of material was untypical of Beethoven, but he shows us his amazing way with ‘old bottles and new wine!’ The coda is a tour de force of the utmost brilliance.

Recommended Recordings:
Good versions exist on period instrument. These include The London Classical Players/Norrington (EMI), although the sound is rather ‘dry’; The Hanover Band/Goodman (Nimbus) is excellent. The Orchestra Revolutionnaire et Romantique/Gardiner (Archiv) has been well received, although the tempos of the last two movements are rather too lax for this writer, and the sound is somewhat compressed compared to the others.

Symphony No.4 in B-flat major, op.60

Period of composition: Summer 1806 Date of Publication: 1808, by Kunst und Industrie Comptoir, dedicated to Count Franz von Oppersdorff.

Background details:
After composing the ‘Eroica’, Beethoven next started work on what is now the 5th Symphony, but this work was laid aside when Beethoven received a symphonic commission from the Silesian Count Oppersdorff. Why the 5th was laid aside in not known, it may have been that Beethoven thought a work of the nature of the 5th would not have been to the Counts taste, but Beethoven may have realised that the ‘Sturm und Drang’ of the 5th would have made less impact after the grandeur of the 3rd and that a more contrasting piece was required. The Count was a most keen music lover and insisted that all who were in his service played a musical instrument. The resulting orchestra performed the 2nd Symphony for Beethoven at the Count’s castle in 1806. The Count had possession of the piece for six months before Beethoven was free to publish it. Little else is known regarding the 4th’s composition.
The piece was first performed at a Benefit concert for its composer in March 1807 and according to Schindler received a favourable reaction from the general public, “its impact was stronger than any of the others…even that of the first symphony in C major.” The Viennese critics for once hailed the new symphony “without reserve or qualification, an honour that had granted to almost no other instrumental composition by Beethoven,” as Schindler put it.

Musical outline:
The more Haydnesque approach shown in the 4th Symphony has been given as the reason for its early acceptance. Certainly its key was a favourite of Haydn’s later orchestral music, and there are fewer elements within it that, to the critics, would appear ‘bizzare’ compared to the others. The positioning of the Symphony between the 3rd and 5th has certainly led to the neglect, and the piece as a whole is by no means lightweight. Schumann’s well known description of the piece as a “slender Greek maiden between two Nordic giants” has done the 4th no favours, nor is it a particularly accurate statement.

The opening Adagio of the first movement, with the disconcerting E-flat repeated along its course immediately reveals Beethoven’s middle period style despite its comparisons with Haydn. The mystery is put aside in favour of a brash and joyfull vigor as the main Allegro Vivace gets underway. In performance it is important that this vivacity is observed literally for the point to be made.

The second movement is Adagio with a light delicate texture that is continuously interrupted by a repeating figure prominent on the timpani and trumpets that wishes to spoil this idyll. The seriousness of these interruptions is revealed in the development, although the status quo is soon restored and the piece ends with the repeating figure ethereally subdued. Beethoven’s metronome marking for this movement indicate a considerably quicker tempo than is traditionally performed today, however, if if observed fairly literally, the use of Beethoven’s figure reveals a completely new nature to the piece, more dynamic while maintaining its delicacy and the development certainly benefits from the quicker tempo.

The silence is shattered with the boisterous scherzo – Allegro vivace. The minuet-like trio is repeated twice for the first time in the symphonies. Beethoven’s use of this A-B-A-B-A structure for a scherzo was the result of his quest to expand his writing musically and structurally at this time.

The final Allegro ma non troppo is also lively and demonstrates that, for Beethoven at least, the proviso “ma non troppo” does not necessarily mean that the piece be played more moderately as a whole, rather the piece has more contrasting elements, that is the full-bodied allegro ‘texture’ is not so constant.

Recommended Recordings:

The Hanover band offer an excellent and exciting version on the Nimbus label. Here the vivacity is maintained throughout and this slow movement is given a far swifter treatment than is the norm, to great benefit.

Symphony No.5 in C minor, op.67

Period of composition: 1804 – 1808 Date of Publication: 1809, by Breitkopf and Hartel, dedicated to Prince Franz Joseph Lobkowitz and Count Andreas Razumovsky.

Background details:

The hugely successful 4th Symphony obviously impressed Count Oppersdorff (who commissioned the piece) as much as it did the critics, for the Count swiftly offered Beethoven a new commission for another symphony. Beethoven took this opportunity to resurrect the sketches he had laid aside from 1804-1806 to satisfy the Count. The Count offered 500 florins for the work (as he did for the 4th Symphony) and paid 200 in advance. However the Count never received the symphony as Beethoven, forever on the look-out for a good deal, saw it fit to sell the piece to publishers Breitkopf and Hartel in 1808 as part of a package deal that included the 6th Symphony, the Cello Sonata Op.69 and the Piano Trios Op.70.

The piece was first performed at a mammoth benefit concert on 22 December 1808 which included the 6th Symphony, 4th Piano Concerto, the aria “Ah Perfido”, excerpts from the Mass in C, an improvisation by Beethoven himself and the Choral Fantasy Op.80! The applause however was somewhat muted. The ability to comprehend such a volume of magnificent and extraordinary music was, perhaps, too much to expect. Also, as the concert lasted over four hours, the audience must have been absolutely frozen – Beethoven having no money left to pay for heating! A humble beginning for what is probably the most widely known piece of ‘classical’ music ever written.

Musical outline:

The four note motto of the opening Allegro con brio is so ingrained into the modern psyche that it is almost impossible to distance ourselves and assess it objectively! According to Schindler Beethoven said of the opening bars: “Thus Fate knocks at the door!” Whether this is true or not, there is certainly a sense of doom which permeates throughout the movement. The con brio must be fully observed for the true fearfulness of the piece to be realised. John Eliot Gardiner argues convincingly that the “Fate” theme has its origins in a song of the French Revolution. These opening bars are played on strings and clarinets alone and are actually ambiguous tonally (the key of C minor is confirmed only as the piece continues), with the full orchestra being reserved for the recapitulation and the coda. The horn heralds the second subject and briefly C major is allowed to triumph before ultimately being destroyed in the coda where “Fate ” has the last word.

In the second movement, Andante con moto, we find an unusual mix of variation and free writing, with the galant theme being interrupted on three occasions by a martial fanfare in C major, and the variations themselves becoming more improvisatory in manner.

With the Scherzo and Trio we return to the world of C minor. The opening theme, looms questioningly out of the darkness on the cellos and bases. The question is answered starkly by the second martial theme, introduced by the horns, that is reminiscent of the “Fate” motif of the opening Allegro. The trio displays a virtuoso introduction from the bass that is increasingly taken up by the rest of the orchestra. The trio is played twice, in common with other works of the period such as the 4th, 6th and 7th Symphonies but there is some dispute as to whether it should be played only once as happened at the premiere. The ommision of the repeat is understandable considering the great length of this concert, but surely for normal purposes the movement should be played complete to hold its own in such a monumental and powerful work as this symphony.

The Scherzo leads without a break into the final Allegro via a mysterious transitionary passage with long held notes on the strings and military tappings on the timpani. Out of this a crescendo arises in the last moment bursting forth the most brilliant light of C major. What proceeds from here is the ultimate musical symbol of triumph and this music also has the flavour of the French revolution. Here the trombones and piccolo, which up until now had remained silent, have their say. Beethoven had discussed the inclusion of these instruments, novelties for a symphony at that time, with Count Oppersdorff, and it is not impossible that the Count had influenced Beethoven in this regard. The exposition repeat is rarely observed in performance but it is essential to balance the weight of the Scherzo of it is played with the full ‘da capo’. The coda is a brilliant affair along the lines of the finale of the 3rd Symphony.

Recommended Recordings:

The Hanover Band/Huggett and The Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique/Gardiner offer excellent versions of this symphony, with the period instruments revealing the true revolutionary spirit of the work.

Symphony No.6 in F major, op.68 “Pastoral”

Period of composition: 1808 Date of Publication: 1809, by Breitkopf and Hartel, dedicated to Prince Franz Joseph Lobkowitz and Count Andreas Razumovsky.

Background details:
Although a small number sketches are to be found in Beethoven’s so-called ‘Eroica’ sketchbook of 1803, serious work on the 6th Symphony did not begin until the 1808. The piece was composed, like the C minor Symphony, at Beethoven’s summer retreat in the village of Heiligenstadt. Much later he showed Schindler the exact locations of great beauty that had stimulated many of the musical ideas we hear in the composition. Beethoven’s great love of nature is well known, though for him it was not merely the appreciation of the beauty of the countryside. Rather, he shared the feeling that, by knowing nature, one could know God, a sentiment popular in art since the time of ancient Greece through to the French Enlightenment.

The idea of a pastoral composition was not a new one, we have from Haydn ‘The Seasons’, pastoral sinfonias are to be found in the oratarios of Bach and Handel. Then of course there is Vivaldi’s ‘The Four Seasons.’ Justin Knecht (1752-1817) had written a symphony titled ‘The musical portrait of nature’ which has a five movement plan with a first movement describing a beautiful sunlit countryside, a storm in the 3rd movement and the finale titled ‘Nature raises her voice towards heaven offering to the creator sweet and agreable songs.’ Now it is certain that B knew of this work, even if he never heard it performed – Sir George Grove discovered that this symphony by Knecht was actually advertised on the cover of Beethoven’s early ‘Electoral’ sonatas WoO47. However Beethoven was generally contemptuous of other composers’ attempts at ‘tone painting’, and although he himself would not disdain on occasion from including ‘imitation’ into his work, the difference between Beethoven and the others was, as Thayer puts it, “they undertook to give musical imitations of things essentially unmusical – he never.”

Although the original inspiration may have stemmed from his genuine love of nature, the businessman in Beethoven may have realised, after the success of Haydn’s composition (which nevertheless, Beethoven scolded mercilessly), the financial benefits to be gained from a work of this genre. Commercial considerations may have also played a part in Beethoven’s decision to give each movement a title. However in the published edition he puts the disclaimer “more an expression of feeling than painting” no doubt in an attempt to play down the effect of the imagery ‘painted’ by these titles.

The work was premiered at the same benefit concert in Vienna as the C minor on 22 December 1808, surely one of the greatest concerts of all time! Ironically, gained little profit from the concert in his honour. After paying the musicians in advance, Beethoven had no money left at all for luxuries such as heating, thus the whole audience were frozen. The receipts barely covered his outgoings.

Musical outline:

The first movement is Allegro ma non troppo and is entitled ‘Cheerful feelings on arriving in the countryside.’ It opens in a relaxed manner and the opening bars provide the material from which the rest of the movement is largely derived. When we arrive at the first theme proper the rustic world is immediately apparent in the droning bass and its joyous hunt-like fanfare, the emphasis of which is important for the point to be made in performance, on the French horns, together with the violins. The second second group is more relaxed and closes with again a droning bass cadence-theme. Repetition plays an important part in the movement, giving a sense of natural growth, this is especially the case in the development.

The following Andante molto mosso has a more specific title – ‘Scene by the brook’. The apparent simplicity of this movement drew scorn from the early critics, who thought it childish. The sense of water flowing is maintained by the melodic pattern played on the lower strings. For some time there is an outpouring of great lyricism in the home key of B-flat yet the flow remains unbroken as an exploration through more distant keys is undertaken in the development. The movements famous bird-calls are heard in the coda. The species are even identified in the score – nightingale, quail and cuckoo – Beethoven honourably acknowledging the assistance his feathered friends have provided!

The last three movements are played without a break. The first of these is an Allegro entitled ‘Peasants Merrymaking’. The movement equates to the scherzo with trio, which is played twice. This ABABA structure was a common practice for Beethoven at this time and which served as a gravity gaining mechanism that allowed the scherzo to command a similar stature as the other movements whose own structure Beethoven had expanded and developed during his ‘middle period’. The ‘scherzo’ section is at one moment light and playful then at another the merrymaking is more boisterous. The ‘trio’ is a rustic dance of great vigour and exhilaration and was first sketched in the ‘Eroica’ sketchbook of 1803. After the second playing of the trio, the third statement of the opening is suddenly cut short by a rumbling on the basses suggesting the distant roll of thunder, and on the strings a staccato figure representing the onset of rain. A storm is approaching…

The ‘Storm’ (Allegro) serves as a link between the third and fifth movements, and could be seen as a more substantial equivalent of the transition link between the third and fourth movement of the C minor Symphony. Here the influence once again of French music is apparent and the piece has been compared to the storm in Cherubini’s opera ‘Eliza’. In addition to the thunder and rain, lightning is provided by sharp attacks on the timpani. Here a piccolo and two trombones are heard for the first time. Eventually the storm abates as the bass rumble dies away and the ‘raindrop’ minims are replaced by heavenly quavers that announce the return of tranquility and sunlight, a time for thanksgiving…

The finale (Allegretto) is entitled ‘Shepherds song – joyful thanksgiving after the storm.’ It is a radiant sonata-rondo whose theme is introduced by the French horn. The rondo eventually comes to a climax in the coda, though the true emotional climax occurs in the closing bars, with the hushed transformation of the rondo theme and the distant horns echo the opening theme once more before the movement ends simply, and humbly, with two short chords.

Recommended Recordings:

The Hanover Band/Goodman (Nimbus) and The London Classical Players/Norrington (EMI) both offer sensitive yet exhilarating performances

Symphony No.7 in A major, op.92.

Period of composition: 1811-1812 Date of Publication: 1816, by Steiner, dedicated to Count Moritz von Fries.

Background details:

Although Beethoven had considered the production of a seventh symphony as early as 1808, possibly intended for Count Oppersdorff, it was not until 1811 that Beethoven finally started sketching such a piece. By then he had in mind not one but a set of three symphonies. The sketches reveal that the 7th and 8th Symphonies were realised side by side, although the 7th was finished first with the main body of writing being undertaken and completed in the spring of 1812. The sketches of 1811 also reveal some preliminary attempts at what was to become the choral section of the 9th Symphony.

Beethoven had hoped that the 7th Symphony could be performed at the time of the Pentecost in 1812, but the project fell through and it was not until the 8th of December 1813, that the piece was first heard at a charity concert in aid of Austrian and Bavarian troops wounded in the battle with Napoleon’s army at Hanau. The concert took place in the University Hall in Vienna and also included Beethoven’s ‘Battle of Vitoria’ Op.91, better known as the ‘Battle Symphony’. The timing of the concert was perfect, such jubilant and victorious music at a time of public relief when Napoleon’s army was all but smashed. By all accounts it was a stupendous success and the whole concert was repeated four days later. A correspondent from the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung attended both and wrote “the applause rose to the point of ecstasy.” Beethoven had reached the zenith of his popularity.

Musical outline:

In one respect the 7th Symphony could be a summation of Beethoven’s symphonic experience during his so-called middle period: it included the daring rhetorical style of the 3rd and 5th, yet also includes structural and lyrical aspects developed from the 4th and 6th. A strong sense of rhythmic motion pervades the whole work, though the description of the Symphony by Wagner as ‘the apotheosis of the dance’ is perhaps too narrow.

Like the 4th Symphony, the piece opens with a slow introductory section, though that of the present work is a more commanding ‘Poco Sostenuto’ compared to the ‘Adagio’ of the 4th. This rather vague marking has led to a great divergence in interpretation regarding the tempo of the opening. However if one pays attention to the motive strength of the semiquaver scales that appear alongside the opening minims, one should deduce that the ‘sostenuto’ should not be overdone. The opening is linked to the main sonata form ‘Vivace’ by a series of solitary exchanges between the wind and the strings that almost brings the music to a complete halt, until the dotted rhythm on the ‘Vivace’ is gently generated. This rhythm is then maintained vigorously throughout the remainder this barnstorming movement of energy on a cosmic scale. The keys of C major and F major play an important role in the development and indeed are a unifying factor in all four movements. In the coda the bizarre grinding bass (which led Weber to declare Beethoven ‘ripe for the madhouse’) serves to build up enormous tension before the release of the final climax.

Then follows the slow movement in the minor key (Allegretto). From the outset this movement was of great popularity with the audiences of the day, and to have it repeated at concerts was the norm. On occasion it was even substituted in place of the existing slow movements of his earlier symphonies during performances of these works! In reality, however, the movement is not ‘Allegretto’, but ‘Andante’. This can be maintained on two levels – firstly, on the original printed musical parts the second movement were marked ‘Andante’, and early reviews indicated this also. Somehow, in later editions of the score, ‘Allegretto’ had been substituted. That Beethoven was aware of this error is reported by Schindler who stated that “in later years the master recommended that the first designation be restored.” Secondly, one can deduce Andante from the music itself. The movement is quasi-variational in design, the theme being the haunting and melancholic march, with two intervening pastoral episodes in the major featuring the clarinet . It was typical of Beethoven to use a march-like Andante theme as the source for a variation movement, but not an Allegretto. By definition Andante (Italian for ‘to go’ or ‘to walk’) is the ideal tempo for such a march as this; Allegretto is altogether something more lively. The variants themselves are confined to accompanying figures, for the theme itself is always present. The theme eventually takes on a fugal form that develops to a climax before the coda scatters the theme quietly amongst the instruments.

The third movement is a scherzo (Presto) in F major. Here the sense of motion is accelerated with great energy. The structure of the movement takes the by now familiar ABABA with the trio (in D major) repeated twice. Apparently the theme for the trio has its origins as an Austrian Pilgrim’s Hymn. Whether this is true or not, it has led to the common practise of playing the trio in a most drawn-out fashion most unlike Beethoven’s slight reduction in tempo in the score to ‘assai meno presto’. The fact that the trio is played twice in full and hinted at again in the coda does not favour a lengthy conception of the trio.

The finale (Allegro con brio) is in sonata form. The semiquaver swirl of the first subject has its origins in Beethoven’s arrangement of the Irish round-dance ‘Save me from the grave and wise’ WoO 154 No.8, though the light gaiety of the dance is transformed into an irresistible whirlwind in its symphonic incarnation. The second group explores unexpected minor key territory with equal force . In the development the victorious move to C major occurs yet again. Further harmonic twists occur in the recapitulation before the coda fires up the whirlwind once more. Here an interesting passage occurs where the first theme is passed back and forth between the first and second violins. The true effect of this can only be appreciated if the first and second violins are separated and placed to the left and right of the conductor. This is evidence that Beethoven’s wrote his music baring this layout in mind, and indeed all of his orchestral compositions benefit from the separation of the violins. In the closing phase we experience two monstrous climaxes using the full force of the orchestra before the book is closed in an appropriately tidy fashion.

Recommended Recordings:

The Hanover Band’s (Nimbus) version is very exhilarating with good tempo. The best version on period instruments.

Symphony No.8 in F major, op.93.

Period of composition: 1811 – 1812 Date of Publication: 1817, by Steiner.

Background details:

Work on the 8th Symphony began alongside that of the 7th in 1811. However the lions share of the work was done in 1812 at Linz, with the final touches completed in the summer. At this time it seems that the 8th was to be the second of a prospective trio of symphonies, the third to be in D minor, but the 8th was completed on the threshold of a barren period for Beethoven and it was not until 1824 that the third symphony (Op.125) was completed.

The 8th Symphony was premiered on 24th February 1814, at a concert in the Redoutensaal, Vienna. Also on the programme were the 7th Symphony Op.92, the terzetto ‘Tremate, empi, tremate’ Op.116 and it closed with the ‘Battle Symphony’ Op. 91. A report in the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung states that while the 7th and Battle Symphonies brought the house down, the applause for the 8th, from which great things were expected, “was not accompanied by that enthusiasm which distinguishes a work which gives universal delight; in short – as the Italians say -it did not create a furore.” The reviewer from the AMZ went on to suggest that this luke warm reception was due to the fact that it had followed the 7th, which had enjoyed immediate success from its first performance, and that if the 8th was performed alone, then its success too would be guaranteed.

Musical outline:

The reason for this relative ‘failure’ to satisfy the audiences anticipation after the glorious 7th? “Because it (the 8th) is so much better” is Beethoven’s own explanation according to Carl Czerny. Yet much has been made of its apparent shortcomings – the work is the shortest of the symphonies in length, and is in many ways a retrospective piece like that other F major work, the quartet Op.135; a less serious effort than its grand brother Op.92 – but how much of this criticism bears scrutiny?

It was typical of the highly original Beethoven to compose a new work in a contrasting style to its predecessor in the genre, especially when the compositions were published in groups of three as had been Beethoven’s original concept. Thus it would be natural for him to contrast a vast work with of high gravity like the 7th with a shorter piece of somewhat lighter gravity, though not lighter quality, for in reality the 8th Symphony is an absolute masterpiece, no less ‘new’, no less serious, no less masterly than what has gone before.

The first movement is the extreme of pace and vitality – ‘Allegro vivace e con brio’. From the outset we realise that here the relative shortness of the work is the result of a fundamental concept that unites the whole composition – that of extreme compression. There is no room here for the ‘indulgence’ of a slow introduction, we are thrown straight into the action with a self contained theme. The initial motif plays no further part in the following exposition but is used to great effect in the development. The compression and consiseness is maintained in the novel second group which has I wide range of contrasting textures and cross-rhythms. At the development an immense force of energy is released on an almost frightening scale before the reassurance of the recapitulation. The coda closes on a humorous note, as the opening motif is casual thrown aside. In performance it is fundamental that the ‘vivace e con brio’ is fully observed for the true energy of the movement to be realised.

The two ‘internal’ movements of the Symphony are unique in Beethoven’s symphonic ouvre, but similarities exist elsewhere, as in the Piano Sonata Op.31/3. The first of these is the ‘Allegretto scherzando’ whose staccato repeated wind chords are humorously accompanied by fleeting melodies on the strings. One could say that the movement is a throwback in style to a more Haydnesque form of wit, but the nature of the movement is unique in the symphonic world and wholly appropriate within the context of the composition.

The third movement also bears a consciously retrospective air with its explicit title ‘Tempo di Menuetto’. It is pastoral in nature. A two note ‘hunting call’ playing an important role in the ‘minuet’, while the trio is more relaxed, with a beautifully flowing melody in the upper strings contrasted with the ‘hunting’ French horn and a more vigorous bass figure. Another retrospective feature is Beethoven abandonment the now typical five part structure where the trio is played twice, but one could say an expansive five-part format is redundant within the context of this work of high compression.

The delicate opening of the finale(Allegro vivace) belies what is in fact a rather weighty piece of extreme pace which matches that of the opening movement. It posesses an unusual structure of an extended sonata-rondo with two developments and two recapitulations. An important feature is the out-of-key fortissimo C sharp which bizzarely intrudes on the vigorous main theme. The second subject provides a contrast of joyful relaxation. Beethoven provides interesting colour effects by having the timpani tuned to octave Fs, an effect he was to repeat in the scherzo of the 9th Symphony. In the closing bars the intrusive C sharp is eventually put out of the picture by a continuous repetition of the F major chord which closes the work. As with the first movement, the vivace tempo should be observed to its fullest extent in performance for the point of the movement to be realised.

Recommended Recordings:

The Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique/ Gardiner (Archiv) offers an account of especially blistering pace. The London Classical Players/Norrington (EMI) and The Hanover Band/Goodman (Nimbus) are also first rate.

Symphony No.9 in D minor, op.125 – ‘Choral’

Period of composition: 1817, 1822-24. Date of Publication: 1826, by Schott, dedicated to King Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia.

Background details:

Few compositions have had such a long and chaotic gestation period as that of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony! As early as 1811 Beethoven made notes in his sketchbook regarding a Symphony in D minor, which would along with the 7th and 8th, have completed his planned trio of symphonies. Also at this time he penned ideas regarding sections of Schiller’s Enlightenment poem ‘An die Freude’ (Ode to Joy) for use in an orchestral setting, although Beethoven had in fact considered putting the ‘Ode’ to music throughout his career as a composer. Further sketches for the scherzo (fugato) appeared in 1815 and 1817. Then in 1818 Beethoven developed a plan for another symphony with chorus based on religious texts which, typically, came to nothing. During 1822 considerable progress was made on the first movement, with the earlier scherzo ideas being carried through virtually unchanged. At this time there was nothing of the slow movement, but we do find sketches of the ‘Ode’ theme noted as being ‘for the finale.’ However a choral finale at this time was be no means a foregone conclusion, for Beethoven later made a memorandum regarding a possible fugal fourth movement.

The main body of composition was undertaken in 1823, with the first half of the year devoted to completion the first movement, followed by the second in August and the third in October. Considerable progress was also made on the setting of Schiller’s ‘Ode’ although even at this stage Beethoven was still considering an purely instrumental finale. A melody in D minor was sketched that was eventually to see the light of day, slightly modified and transposed into a different key, in the finale of the quartet op.132. Beethoven eventually made a firm decision on the choral version and was completed in sketch form by the end of 1823, and written out in score during February 1824.

The premiere of the 9th Symphony was made at yet another monumental concert, at the Royal Imperial Court Theatre on May 7th, 1824. The other pieces performed were the grand overture ‘Weihe des Hauses’ op.124, and the Kyrie, Credo and Agnus Dei from the Missa Solemnis op.123. Although the performance was far from perfect (the performers having only two rehearsals), and as strange as the music must have sounded to the audience, the effect of the symphony was overwhelming on the audience and the applause was tumultuous. Beethoven, in his deafness oblivious to this reception, had to have his attention drawn by the alto singer Karoline Unger who pulled his sleeve and directed his gaze towards the clapping hands and waving hats. Financially the concert made a poor return for Beethoven due to the very large overheads for the performance. The gross receipts for the concert were 2,220 florins, yet once management costs, parts copying etc. were catered for, Beethoven was left with only 420 florins, with some debts still to be paid! Schindler reports that when the master received the box-office report he collapsed and had to be lifted onto a sofa.

Musical outline:

Despite its relatively late date of composition, the 9th Symphony still is a product of the Classical tradition and of the age of Enlightenment and revolution – all of which were imbued in Beethoven from an early age. The freedom and dignity of the individual, the pain, the suffering and the hopes of all mankind (and indeed Beethoven himself) are all ultimately manifested here. The emotions of the 5th Symphony and Fidelio are profoundly intensified into a form which stretches the media of voice and instrument to their very limits.

Then follows a scherzo with trio – Molto vivace – also in D minor. The scherzo itself is in sonata form with all parts repeated. The startling originality of the opening bars sent the audience at the premiere into a frenzy, with the octave tuned drums immediately announcing the important role they play in the tonality of the movement as a whole. Then follows a hushed fugato, which has first been sketched so many years ago. However the fugue serves an introductory purpose as the full force of the orchestra then follows a more harmonic path with the utmost vigour. The second subject in C major adds an unusual harmonic flavour. The trio has a quasi-pastoral flavour, yet this does not mean the piece should be played at too leisurely a pace, as often occurs in performance. The trio is played only once, although Beethoven fools us into believing we will here it once more at the end, only to have it abruptly cut short and the door slammed in our face!

The first movement, in sonata form – Allegro ma non troppo, on pocco maestoso – opens with the utmost mystery. The tremulando strings and bare fifth horns appear from the distance, as if they had been already playing out of earshot A repeating two-note motif gradually intensifies in volume until the final explosion into the first subject occurs. Who but Beethoven would then dare to repeat the whole process again, shifting the key from D minor to B flat major! In typical Beethoven minor-mode style the second group offers a pathetic hint at some form of consolation for doubt soon sets in once more as if to intensify the ‘despair,’ as Beethoven wrote in his sketches of the movement. Uniquely in Beethoven’s symphonies there is no exposition repeat, instead, as he did in the first ‘Razumovsky’ quartet op.59/1, we are led into expecting the repeat before we are led into a development of unparalleled energy. Here the ‘despair’ loses all control to a terrifying explosion in which the two-note fragment of the opening plays an important role. The contrast of emotion returns in the recapitulation before the moving firmly into the minor in the coda, with the movement ending with an emphatic statement based on the first subject.

Then follows a scherzo with trio – Molto vivace – also in D minor. The scherzo itself is in sonata form with all parts repeated. The startling originality of the opening bars sent the audience at the premiere into a frenzy, with the octave tuned drums immediately announcing the important role they play in the tonality of the movement as a whole. Then follows a hushed fugato, which has first been sketched so many years ago. However the fugue serves an introductory purpose as the full force of the orchestra then follows a more harmonic path with the utmost vigour. The second subject in C major adds an unusual harmonic flavour. The trio has a quasi-pastoral flavour, yet this does not mean the piece should be played at too leisurely a pace, as often occurs in performance. The trio is played only once, although Beethoven fools us into believing we will here it once more at the end, only to have it abruptly cut short and the door slammed in our face!

The third movement – Adagio molto e cantabile – is quasi-variational similar and involves two themes: Adagio molto and Andante moderato. The structure bares similarity to the slow movement of the 7th Symphony in that a principle theme and variations (Adagio molto, B flat) is twice interrupted by a contrasting episode (Andante moderato, D major). Both themes are of unsurpassed beauty. There is no link musically between the themes. Indeed it seems that contrast serves an important function in the movement as also seen in the two dramatic fanfares hear towards the end. In performance the movement suffers from to broad a conception of ‘Adagio molto’ at the expense of the ‘cantabile’ to that the theme is often lost altogether and the emphasis instead placed on the long-held notes. Also it is important that the variations have an element of dynamism within them, as they become more elaborate, this is only fully realised at a quicker tempo and more assertive playing.

Once Beethoven satisfied himself that the ‘Ode to Joy’ was to be included as the finale Beethoven immediately faced two problems: the first being how to credibly incorporate voices into what had been, up until then, a purely instrumental piece and make it relevant to the other movements; the second how to introduce the ‘Ode’ itself. After a dramatic call to attention, Beethoven solves the first problem by creating a middle ground between voice and instrument – he lets the cellos and basses ‘talk’ in a gruff recitative that passes judgement on the themes of the first three movements and finds them all wanting. The recitative then halts and slowly, out of this darkness, the ‘joy’ theme is first heard. The theme itself is very similar to that used by Beethoven in his Choral Fantasy op.50 (which itself originated from a still earlier source – the song Gegenliebe WoO118 of 1795) and was the product of a continuous process of rewriting. As the theme commences, the other instruments of the orchestra become involved and the theme is evolved into its ideal instrumental form. But what does Beethoven do here? He stops the whole show, the instrumental form has had its say. Now, with the aid of Schiller, the true musical revelation is finally to be made.

Recommended Recordings:

Once again the The Hanover Band is this writer’s ultimate preference. The ambient acoustic, that is a feature of the whole series by this ensemble, really brings out the true beauty of the period instruments and should sound good on even a low-grade hi-fi system. There is almost a Baroque flavour to the sound. The Adagio is realised with more feeling than the other period style versions available. There is only one reservation – the recording level of the first movement is greater than the remainder, but an adjustment of your volume control will cater for this. Importantly, the set as whole is normally offered at a bargain price, with excellent versions of the overtures and the Missa Solemnis thrown in for good measure. Those without preconceptions will enjoy this music.

PIANO CONCERTO NO.1 in C Major Op.15

Preliminary sketches 1795/6 . Completed 1798 . Published March 1801 by Mollo &Co. First performed at Prague in Oct 1798 (Beethoven Soloist).

Background details:
This Concerto was actually composed after the Concerto known as no.2 in Bb (Op.19), and is therefore the 3rd piano concerto in order of composition (taking into account WoO.4); the confusion arises owing to its being published 9 months earlier than no.2 and consequently receiving a lower Opus number. Beethoven first performed the work at a concert in Prague (1798). At a later date (1807/8) Beethoven wrote 3 Cadenzas for this Concerto. The original manuscript is in the Prussian State Library, Berlin.

Musical outline:
This work is a more positive and impressive achievement than its predecessor. The First movement starts with a theme of little interest in itself which however is given impact by being played quietly – a device Beethoven was to use with the opening of most of his Concertos. The second theme surprises us by being in the remote key of Eb – but not for long as woodwind chords interrupt the tender, rather feminine theme. Then Beethoven repeats the same effect a tone higher. After a passage where the two main themes are combined, a new military style theme is introduced by the horns and trumpets. The piano now enters with a few soft and gentle bars which lead into the 2nd exposition. The momentum is increased by a triplet passage in the piano (left hand) punctuated with off beat accents and then comes a wonderful chromatically shifting passage for the piano. Near the end of the usual orchestral tutti, Beethoven employs a favourite device, which he learnt from Haydn, of side stepping key changes, from G up a semitone to Ab. The 3rd cadenza Beethoven wrote for this movement is the finest, being full of many surprises -The slow movement is the longest in any Beethoven concerto. The piano presents the glorious theme which is later taken up by the clarinet. The piano writing is lyrical and nocturne like and the main theme appears with more elaborate decorations as the movement progresses. The final Rondo is really the most succesful movement of the three. Beethoven marks it allegro scherzando to indicate the humorous nature of the movement. Some of the thematic material was taken from an earlier piano trio in Eb (1791) that was not intended for publication – the tranformation is quite miraculous. The music is lively, full of fun and invention, with startling modulations in places – the music rising by semitones along the lines of the ‘minuet’ from the first Symphony. After bringing the music to a virtual stop with 2 adagio bars, Beethoven suddenly brings the Concerto to a rousing conclusion.


Date of composition : 1794/5 (revised 1798). Published Dec 1801 by Hoffmeister, first performed Mar 29 1795 at Vienna.(Beethoven soloist) Dedicated to Karl Von Nikelsberg.

Background details

Arguably the most Haydnesque of the concertos – the only major Beethoven orchestral work not to use clarinets, an instrument that Haydn was curiously averse to. Beethoven may also have used Mozart’s last piano concerto (K.595) as a model, as both Concertos are scored for the same orchestra. Beethoven later described this concerto and the previous one as ‘not among my best compositions’ – it is however full of interest and very enjoyable. Beethoven substanially revised this work for his 1798 Prague concerts; this is the version that survives today.

Musical outline:
The Concerto opens forte with 1 bar of full orchestra stating the common chord of Bb in a dotted rhythm figuration – this is followed by a gentle phrase in the violins. From these opening 4 bars Beethoven constructs most of the material used in the movement. Like Mozart, he introduces the piano with a few improvisatory bars. Also like Mozart, he saves his most memorable 2nd subject for the piano exposition. The fine cadenza for this movement was written much later (1809) . The slow movement opens in the rhythm Haydn frequently used when setting the words ‘Agnus Dei’ in his masses – indeed he also used it in the slow movement of Symphony no.98, a work Beethoven almost certainly would have known. The practice of the day with slow movements when the theme was repeated was for the soloist to add their own embellishments and decorations – a typical example of this is Mozart’s A major concerto where there is a passage of very sparse piano writing – Beethoven however was not prepared to risk other pianists ruining his music and wrote down exactly what he intended. The final rondo has an unusual rhythm which may have only evolved during the 1798 revision, for the sketch books reveal that a tamer rhythm was originally intended. Beethoven may have got the idea for this more energetic and piquant rhythm from Mozart’s Bb concerto (K.595) where it occurs also in the third movement.

PIANO CONCERTO NO.3 in C minor Op.37

Preliminary sketches : 1797/1800 completed 1800. Published by Bureau d’Arts et d’industrie, Vienna, 1804. First Performed : 5th April 1803 Theater an Der Wien, Beethoven Soloist. Dedicated to Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia.

Background details

This concerto is another example of a deceptively high opus number owing to Beethoven delaying publication. At the first performance which included the 1st Symphony, and the first performances of the Symphony no.2 and the Oratorio ‘Christ on the Mount of Olives’ (a mammoth programme by any standards !) – Beethoven played the piano part largely from memory as it had not yet been fully written out. Beethoven thought more highly of this concerto than its two predecessors, and it is indeed a superior work. C minor was a key of particular emotional significance for Beethoven and he may have had Mozart’s great C minor Concerto in mind ( a work he was known to admire tremendously).

Musical outline:
The work opens softly in the strings with a theme of subdued tension which is answered by the woodwind. Within a few bars, Beethoven plunges the theme triumphantly into the relative major, where the music stays for the attractive second subject. The Orchestral exposition ends with three hammerblows on the tonic note C – then the piano enters dramatically with 3 rising C minor scales and then states the main theme in powerful octaves. The piano writing in this concerto is technically more difficult than the earlier concertos although it is more restrained in the development section. The coda is very interesting and effective with the rhythmic use of the timpani and the pianist being kept playing till the very end . In the slow movement, as Beethoven uses a 3/8 time signature, the music looks formidable on the page – as it is covered in large quantities of hemidemisemiquavers and worse ! The piano opens very softly, presenting a beautiful theme which after modulating to the dominant, magically and unexpectedly turns to G major. After the orchestral statement of the theme, Beethoven breaks new ground in the middle section by using the piano as mere accompaniment to a bassoon and flute duet. Having chosen the extroadinary key (for a C minor work) of E major for this movement, in the Rondo Beethoven performs a wonder stroke by enharmonically using the notes of the last E major chord of the slow movement – he emphasises the notes B and Ab (the same on the piano as G#) in his Rondo theme. The mood of this energetic movement contains a certain desperation behind the high spirits. After the main theme, a new joyful theme appears first on the piano and then in the orchestra. The middle section is in Ab and a lovely melody is presented on the clarinet and then taken up by the piano. Beethoven’s inventiveness is now in full swing, and he brings the main theme in as a fugue which leads into another of his enharmonic masterstrokes – repeated octave Ab quavers are then turned into G# with E in the bass, changing the Key to E major (same as the slow movement – so he has performed his original trick in reverse !) – surprise modulations continue almost up to the end. For the Coda, Beethoven provides a jubilant and rousing conclusion to the concerto in the major key.

TRIPLE CONCERTO in C for Piano, Violin & ‘Cello Op.56

Date of composition : 1803-4. Published by Bureau d’Arts et d’industrie 1807. Dedicated to Prince Lobkowitz.

Background details

Written just after the completion of the ‘Eroica’ Symphony and laid aside whilst the ‘Waldstein’ sonata was finished and work on Fidelio begun. The triple concerto was the first of a number of works Beethoven wrote for his pupil Archduke Rudolph, and it is fairly certain that he would have played it at its first performance, along with the violinist Seidler and the ‘cellist Anton Kraft who had been Haydn’s main cellist at Esterhaz. Perhaps owing to Beethoven’s admiration for Kraft, the ‘cello is given special prominence in this work. It is not known when the first performance took place, but the first public performance was in May 1808.

Musical Outline

The Concerto begins very softly with just the ‘cellos and basses and builds up using a crescendo over a repeated quaver bass – (a favourite device of the Mannheim composers in the 1750’s). The ‘cello is the first solo to enter, lightly accompanied by discords and the effect is quite satisfying. The whole of the soloists exposition is magnificent with expansive themes and unconventional tonality; the second subject comes not in the dominant but in the more striking key of A. The development sounds like a piano trio, but the woodwind accompaniment is not very effective. There is no cadenza, perhaps Beethoven thought it would be impratical for 3 soloists. The slow movement is a gem – it is a short theme and variations – very beautiful. The coda leads without a break into the finale marked ‘rondo alla polacca’. It is this movement that has suffered from most criticism ( particularly the Coda which appears to have been rather casually written and is not of the quality of the material that preceeds it) – however there are many fine passages in this movement, particularly the polonaise episode which anticipates those of Chopin a few years later.


Composed 1805/6 . Published Aug 1808 by the Bureau d’arts et d’industrie. Dedicated to Archduke Rudolph. First performed in March 1807 at Lobkowitz palace Vienna (Beethoven soloist).

Background details

The previous Piano concertos had belonged to Beethoven’s first or early period – with this concerto we are in his ‘middle period’. It was written at a time of intense creativity for Beethoven, with work on the Symphony no.5 and the Opera Fidelio in progress at the same time. Along with his next and last piano concerto (no.5) it represents the summit of his achievement in this medium. It is one of his most poetic works. The technical requirements of the piano part are quite daunting – Beethoven referred to it himself as being very difficult and it was only performed in Vienna twice during his lifetime. Beethoven was the soloist on both occasions ! The timpani and trumpets are not used until the last movement, which is unusual for Beethoven.

Musical outline:
The very start of this concerto is remarkable – the piano opens softly and unaccompanied with a 5 bar phrase of the utmost quality, combining rhythmic and melodic interest. [Only on one occasion had Mozart attempted such a concerto opening (K.271) but the effect is much less striking]. The orchestra then take up the theme, not in the tonic key (G major) but a 3rd higher in B major – the effect is magical. The rhythmic cell of 4 repeated quavers is emphasised throughout the exposition on different instruments. The second subject is delightful and constantly changes key as it is passed to different instruments – in the space of 12 bars, the music has flirted with six different keys. At the end of the piano exposition, there are 4 bars of trills – but instead of the expected tutti, Beethoven delays this a few bars by presenting a beautiful melody on the piano. The development is dramatic with powerful piano figurations – there can be a problem of balance here though as the woodwind struggle to be heard above so much that is going on in the orchestra and piano. The movement ends triumphantly with a cascade of scales and arpeggios from the piano. Possibly Liszt was the first to suggest a programmatic basis for the slow movement, at any rate it is obvious that a dialogue is taking place between the piano and strings. The movement is scored for just piano and strings and the strings play in unison a disturbed and striking theme which is answered by a soothing and tender piano. Gradually the strings are subdued and the calmness of the piano wins the day. The Rondo picks up the last E from the slow movement and begins a lively pianissimo theme in the wrong key – C, only coming round to the tonic G a few bars later. Haydn had done the same in the ‘Surprise’ symphony and Beethoven began the finale to the Razumovsky quartet no.2 in the same way. In keeping with the rest of this concerto the Rondo is full of striking inventiveness and originality – it is a thoroughly exhilarating and uplifting experience !


Composed : 1806 Published by Clementi 1808, Dedicated to Stephan Von Breuning, First Performed 23rd Dec 1806 by Franz Clement.

Background details

Beethoven wrote this wonderful concerto (perhaps the greatest of all Violin concertos) for the virtuoso Franz Clement (26 yr old leader of the orchestra at the Theater an der Wien) Several revisions were made of the solo part at Clement’s suggestion. At the publisher Clementi’s request, Beethoven arranged this concerto for the piano – he did not change the orchestration, but added a highly original cadenza for piano and timpani.

Musical outline

The concerto opens with 5 repeated crotchets on the timpani followed by a gentle melody in the woodwind. The timpani crotchets provide a rhythmic cell that unifies the whole movement. This rhythmic cell accompanies the glorious second subject – a tune of divine simplicity, which Beethoven repeats in the minor key ( a favourite device of Schubert). The soloist enters with a few improvisatory bars taking the violin to the top of its register to sing out the first theme. In the development there is a remarkable passage in G minor where the horns repeat the opening rhythmic cell against some romantic and poignant music for the violin – most soloists usually drop the tempo here, but no such indication is written in the score. The recapitulation begins with full orchestra stating the main theme fortissimo. The slow movement is breathtakingly beautiful and creates an atmosphere of calm and contemplation – again this movement is often taken slower than the Larghetto marking would imply. Beethoven asks the soloist to link this movement to the finale with a short cadenza. The rondo finale is pure joy and begins with the soloist stating the famous theme twice, then it bursts out in the whole orchestra . There is a fine moment for the Bassoon in the second episode in the minor , where it has the theme and is accompanied by the soloist. After the cadenza, the main theme appears in a magical key change in Ab. The sudden loud and adbrupt ending after a few soft solo violin notes is a delightful surprise.

PIANO CONCERTO NO.5 in Eb ‘Emperor’ Op.73

Date of composition : 1809, Published by Breitkopf and Hartel in Feb 1811, Dedicated to Archduke Rudolph . First performed Nov 28th 1811 in the Gewandhaus Leipzig – F.Schneider soloist .

Background details

The ‘Emperor’ is the grandest and most spectacular of all the concertos and it is written in Eb – a key often associated with Beethoven’s heroic music. e.g ‘Eroica’ Symphony. Written during 1809 -this was the year the French bombarded Vienna on 11th-12th May and shortly after (31st May) Haydn died. This is the only one of the five concertos for piano that Beethoven never performed, due to his increasing deafness. The first Vienna performance took place with Carl Czerny as soloist on 11th Feb 1812.

Musical outline

The work opens in a striking and highly original manner with a grand cadenza for the piano punctuated by 3 powerful chords in the orchestra. The main theme is one of the most positive in any of the concertos. As in the Violin concerto, the second theme is presented in both the major and minor keys – the contrast in mood is striking. In the development, the music builds to a powerful climax of chords and octaves in the piano. There is the briefest of cadenzas, fully written out by Beethoven that leads into the coda, which is much the longest in any Beethoven concerto and ends with a powerful and energetic display. The glorious slow movement is fairly brief as in all the later concertos. In the seemingly unrelated key of Bmajor (enharmonically Cb – a third below Eb) It opens with muted strings presenting the serene melody. Then there follows two variations on this theme, the piano accompanies the woodwind in the second of these. The final note B slips down a semitone to Bb ( the dominant of Eb) and a short coda leads into the finale by tantalisingly hinting very slowly at the rondo – then it suddenly bursts into the powerful main theme of the Rondo. This movement is full of energy and vitality, with a very interesting development section that passes through many keys. The coda is highly original, with a marvellous passage for piano and timpani where the pace slows bringing the music to a complete halt – then there is a sudden and rapid scale passage rising in the piano which leads into the closing orchestral bars and 3 sudden adbrupt chords.



Apart from the 7 well known Concertos by Beethoven, there were some early attempts by Beethoven in this genre, dating mainly from his Bonn years

The following are compositions for orchestra and solo instruments completed by Beethoven in his youth but were not published and laid undiscovered until after his death. The completed scores have been partially or totally lost, some existing only in the form of musical fragments.

Piano Concerto in E flat, WoO 4.

Period of composition: 1784.

Background details:

The music for this piece survives in the form of a hand-written (though unsigned) 32pp manuscript, with corrections by the author. The solo piano part is totally complete and also includes a piano transcription of the orchestral parts. The orchestral score itself, for flutes, horns and strings, is lost. This was a time before Beethoven had heard the likes of Mozart or Haydn, but instead had been exposed to J S Bach, the Mannheim school and no doubt the many local ‘masters’ residing around Bonn at this time. The music was found in 1890 in the archives of the Artaria Fund and was from there taken to the Berlin State library. It was published in the same year by Breitkopf und Hartel. Later, the famous Beethoven scholar Willy Hess took to the task of restoring the orchestral parts based on the piano score material. The result is an intelligent and disciplined assessment that manages to sound sufficiently ‘Beethovenish’ as a whole to be taken seriously. This version was first performed (last movement only) in 1934 in Oslo. The first performance of the complete concerto was in 1968 at the London Queen Elizabeth Hall. There are numerous recordings of the piece to be found on CD today.

Musical outline:

Despite its early origins the music bristles with originality and contains many touching moments. The first movement is a substantial Allegro Moderato, and opens with a march like theme on the flutes and horns that is then taken up by the remainder of the orchestra. The piano then takes up the theme, which is then followed by a varied selection of more melodic material. Beethoven’s capacity for grand and serious is evident in the development. The piano part itself is of considerable virtuosity and the original cadenza survives. Then follows a Larghetto of considerable beauty that contains some haunting passages. The central episode where the first theme is taken to dark and unforeseen vistas. The movement is quite unlike the slow movements of the 1st and 2nd Piano Concertos, indeed in many respects one could say the present movement is more original than those of these more mature works. The final Rondo is light hearted and entertaining but which also contains a contrasting intermezzo in the minor key ‘all ungherese’.

Oboe Concerto in F major, Hess 12.

Period of composition: Circa early 1790’s.

Background details:

The first indication of the existence of this piece was found in a letter from Haydn, then Beethoven’s teacher, to the Elector in Bonn. Here Haydn wrote that he was sending the Elector, amongst other pieces of music by Beethoven, an oboe concerto, as evidence of his pupil’s great potential as a composer. There is also a story relating to the Concerto manuscript being in the hands of publisher Diabelli after Beethoven’s death. However, the story also relates that the manuscript was destroyed in a fire in Diabelli’s store. Fragments from all three movements were found by Elliot Forbes in the Beethoven Music Archives in Bonn and are printed in his edition of Thayer’s Life of Beethoven. In 1970 a collection of musical manuscripts by Beethoven, known as the Kafka Sketchbook, was published by the British Museum. Within this book was found a draft for the second movement of the Oboe Concerto. As far as this writer is aware, there has been no reconstruction of the whole concerto, although the complete second movement was written by Charles Amherst in 1981. I have not seen a recording of this piece.

Musical outline:

Given the lack of material available only the vaguest musical outline can be given. The Bonn fragments reveal an orchestra of two oboes, two bassoons and strings, with the first movement being Allegro moderato, a slow movement in B flat major and a final Rondo – Allegretto. Given the ‘undynamic’ nature of the oboe from a Beethovenian perspective, one can assume that the music would have been very melodic in content without too much conflict. For evidence of this from elsewhere one need only look at Beethoven’s other early compositions involving the oboe – the quintet for oboe, three horns and bassoon Hess 19, and the Trio for Two Oboes and English Horn Op.87.

Violin Concerto in C WoO 5

Period of composition: Circa 1790/92.

Background details:

Only a 259-measure fragment of the first movement exists in the author’s hand. This fragment reveals an orchestral introduction, a solo passage, a further orchestral tutti followed by a solo fantasia. It ends with a new transitional theme which has led to the belief that the movement was actually completed and that the remainder of the piece has been lost. The fragment is stored in the archives of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna.

Romance for Piano, Flute and Bassoon Concertante in E minor, Hess 13.

Period of composition: Circa early 1790’s.

Background details:

All the writer knows regarding this piece is that a fragment of the autograph is housed in the British Museum.

Rondo for Piano and Orchestra in B flat, WoO6

Period of composition: Circa 1794.

Background details:

The score for this piece was found among Beethoven’s papers after his death and published by Diabelli and Co. in 1829. The circumstances surrounding the composition of the piece have been the subject of some debate amongst scholars. The principle argument suggests that the piece was the original finale to an early incantation of the Concerto in B flat Op.19 and then rejected upon its revision into the form we know it today. There is no conclusive evidence for this but it would be unlikely for Beethoven to compose the Rondo as an independent one-movement piece. The score is incomplete but was published by Carl Czerny in 1829 who completed the orchestration and, extended the piano passages and added a cadenza. Czerny’s taste for indulging the higher register if the piano (for which he was criticised by Beethoven) is evident, however, in his reconstruction. Otherwise, the piece is light, joyful and with no pretensions. There are numerous recordings of the Rondo available on CD.

PIANO CONCERTO no.6 in D Hess.15 – Incomplete

Period of composition 1814/15.

Performing edition by Prof. Nicholas Cook.

Background details

In late 1814 and early 1815, Beethoven sketched the first movement of a piano concerto. There are 70 pages of sketches and he even started writing out a full score which runs as far as the middle of the soloists exposition. The scoring becomes more patchy as the movement proceeds but it still represents one of the most substantial of the incomplete works. Beethoven may have abandoned the work as the material is of a Symphonic nature and not really suited to a piano concerto – the piano part seems merely to decorate the themes rather than challenge the orchestra in its own right. A reconstruction of the movement was completed in 1987 by Nicholas Cook and Kelina Kwan – The music is Beethoven up as far as a point shortly after the 2nd subject in the soloists exposition (though orchestral and other parts have been added in places).

Piano Sonatas

It is not intended here to give a detailed musical account of each of the piano sonatas, as to do so would require a book in itself. What I shall do is give a general background to these works, as they are central to Beethoven’s output, spanning his entire creative life and revealing perhaps better than any other genre he wrote in, the stylistic changes that his music went through. That this is so is no surprise as Beethoven was a virtuoso pianist, and the piano was the natural outlet for his developing genius. To pianists, the 32 piano sonatas of Beethoven are a central core of the repertoire and are often referred to as the New Testament of keyboard music – the Old Testament being the 48 preludes and Fugues of Bach’s ‘Well Tempered Clavier’.

Beethoven’s first published work had been the Variations on a March of Dressler for piano WoO63 (1783) and he produced another six sets of piano variations before embarking on his Op.2 Sonatas – this is particularly interesting when we bare in mind the closeness between variations and the art of improvisation for which Beethoven was particularly famed in his early years in Vienna. Beethoven’s very first attempts at sonatas date from 1782/3 when he was around 12 – the 3 sonatas WoO47 are not included in the official list of 32 Sonatas as they are regarded merely as ‘juvenelia’. Two other incomplete sonatas exist – WoO50 in F (1788-90) (2 movements only) and WoO51 in C (1791/2) (2 movements only – the 2nd completed by Ries). The main influences on Beethoven’s early keyboard music were C.P.E.Bach, Clementi, Dussek, Haydn and Mozart.

First Period Sonatas Op.2 – Op.22

None of the original manuscripts of the early sonatas have survived.

Opus 2 : 3 Sonatas – F min/ A maj/ C maj published by Artaria in 1796. Dedicated to Haydn.

The first of the official 32 Sonatas is the Op.2 set dating from 1793-5. Some of the themes derive from the early C major piano Quartet WoO36 no.3: two passages from the opening movement of the quartet reappear in the first movement of the C major Sonata Op.2 No.3, and the initial theme of the slow movement is reproduced at the start of the Adagio from the F minor Sonata Op.2 No.1. All three of the Op.2 Sonatas have four movements, which is unusual as the classical sonatas of Haydn and Mozart normally have three or even two movements. Of these three sonatas the last in C major is probably the finest and certainly the most technically challenging for the performer.

Opus 49 : 2 Sonatas – Gmin/ Gmaj published by Bureau des Arts et d’industrie in 1805.

The relatively high Opus number of these two little sonatas is misleading as they were written around 1795-7. No.1 was also written later than no.2. Both sonatas have only 2 movements – the minuet of no.2 being used later in the Septet of 1800. They bear no dedication and were probably intended for teaching purposes.

Opus 7 : Sonata in Eb published by Artaria in 1797. Dedicated to Countess von Keglevics.

Dating from 1796, this sonata was dedicated to Beethoven’s pupil, Countess Babette von Keglevics. The first movement is a lively 6/8 piece revealing the influence of Clementi but the slow movement as so often in these early sonatas is the finest as its measured silences look forward to the slow movement of the Waldstein sonata.

Opus 10 : 3 Sonatas – Cmin/ Fmaj/ Dmaj published by Joseph Eder in 1798. Dedicated to Countess Browne.

Of these three sonatas sketched between 1796-8, it is the last in D major that really stands out. In this sonata, the slow movement marks it out as one of the greats and the emotions it expresses go deeper than in any of the other sonatas up to this time.

Opus 13 : Sonata in C min ‘Pathétique’ published by Hoffmeister in 1799. Dedicated to Prince Lichnowsky.

Dating from 1797/8, this is the first of the sonatas to have acquired a universal popularity. The title was Beethoven’s own and the influence of Dussek, Grétry and Cramer rather than Mozart is apparent. The sketches reveal that the last movement was possibly originally planned for more than one instrument – probably violin and piano.

Opus 14 : 2 Sonatas – Emaj/ G maj published by Mollo in 1799. Dedicated to Baroness Braun.

Though they appeared after Op.13, these two intimate sonatas may have been sketched as early as 1795, though most work on them was probably done 1798/9. Beethoven thought sufficiently highly of no.1 to arrange it for string quartet in 1801/2 (transposed into F major). Both Sonatas have 3 movements.

Opus 22 : Sonata in Bb published by Hoffmeister in 1802. Dedicated to Count Browne. Most of the work on this sonata was probably done at Dobling in the summer of 1800. Strangely this sonata, (which Beethoven thought highly of) is not as frequently performed as some of the other early sonatas, perhaps because it is rather more conventional than say Op.10 no.3.

Middle Period Sonatas Op.26 -Op.90

There is no clear stylistic dividing line with the sonatas, unlike the Symphonies, but the years 1800-3 were a transition period in Beethoven’s creative process marked by increasing despair over his deafness and culminating in the Heiligenstadt Testament of Oct 1802.

Opus 26 : Sonata in Ab published by Cappi in 1802. Dedicated to Prince Lichnowsky.

Dating from 1800-1 the order of movements in this movement is highly unusual – Variations, Scherzo, Funeral march, Rondo. Only 5 of the sonatas include variation movements and in this work there are 5 variations on a theme that is similar to a Schubert Impromptu in the same key. The funeral march was arranged for orchestra and transposed to B minor as no.4 of Leonore Prohaska (WoO96) . It is in the unusual key of Ab minor and marked by extroadinary enharmonic modulations. The finale is an excellent study for the pianist in broken chords and according to Czerny was inspired by Cramer’s Op.23 sonatas.

Opus 27 : 2 Sonatas – Eb, C# min ‘Moonlight published by Cappi in 1802. No.1 dedicated to Princess Liechtenstein. No.2 dedicated to Countess Guicciardi. Again two unorthodox sonatas which both have the subtitle ‘quasi una fantasia’. Written in 1801, no.1 has always been overshadowed by the famous ‘Moonlight’, yet it is a delightful piece of deceptive simplicity. The title ‘Moonlight’ was not Beethoven’s, but was suggested by Ludwig Rellstab who envisaged a boat on the waters of Lake Lucerne lit by moonlight. At best, it really only applies to the first movement, probably the most celebrated piece Beethoven ever wrote.

Opus 28 : Sonata in D ‘Pastorale’ published by Bureau des Arts et d’Industrie in 1802. Dedicated to Joseph Sonnenfels.

Written the same year as the previous 2 sonatas, the dedication to Sonnenfels is puzzling as Beethoven appears not to have known him personally. Yet again the title ‘Pastorale’ was not Beethoven’s (unlike the symphony of the same name) but suggested by the publisher Cranz. According to Czerny, it was a favourite of Beethoven’s, particularly the slow movement. Around this time, Beethoven wrote in a sketch book “God knows why my piano music still makes the worst impression on me, especially when it is badly played”. He also remarked to his friend Krumpholz that he intended to make a fresh start.

Opus 31 : 3 Sonatas – G, D min, Eb nos 1&2 published in 1803, no.3 in 1804 by Nageli. Commissioned by the publisher.

Completed by the spring of 1802, the publication of these sonatas was somewhat of a fiasco; Beethoven’s brother Karl (who helped manage Beethoven’s affairs at this time) was negotiating with the publishers Breitkopf & Hartel at the same time they had been offered to Nageli. This caused serious argument between the brothers, but in the event Beethoven regretted offering these sonatas to Nageli as the printed copies were full of mistakes (including to Beethoven’s horror 4 extra bars composed by Nageli!). They were then offered to Simrock and that edition appeared with the wonderful misprint ‘Editiou tres correcte’ ! The outstanding work of this set is no.2 in D minor which according to Schindler was inspired by Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’. It is perhaps the most representative work of the traumas of the Heiligenstadt year.

Opus 53 : Sonata in C ‘Waldstein’ published in 1805 by the Bureau des Arts et d’Industrie. Dedicated to Count Waldstein.

In 1803 Beethoven had acquired an Erard piano which had a larger compass than previous pianos -consequently Beethoven rewrote some passages of the 3rd Piano Concerto, but he appears not to have altered the earlier sonatas. Written in 1803/4 (around the same time as the Eroica symphony) Beethoven expanded the dimensions of sonata form to new limits in this, the first of the really grand sonatas- Beethoven was obviously concerned about the overall length of this sonata as he replaced the slow movement (now known as the ‘Andante favori’ ) with a shorter and more profound adagio introduzione which links directly to the Rondo finale – a device that is quite common in middle period Beethoven. Technically this sonata is the most difficult Beethoven had written, with all sorts of effects – octaves, trills, glissandi which put it way beyond the amateur pianist!

Op.54 : Sonata in F published in 1806 by Bureau des Arts et d’Industrie.

Sandwiched between two giants – the ‘Waldstein’ and the ‘Appassionata’, this sonata has always suffered from neglect. Dating from 1804 when Beethoven was working on his opera ‘Fidelio’, it is highly unconventional being in just 2 movements, a minuet (twice interrupted by double octave passages) followed by a toccata with an unbroken semiquaver pattern that outdoes the similar finale to Op.26.

Op.57 – Sonata in F min ‘Appassionata’ published in 1807 by Bureau des Arts et d’Industrie. Dedicated to Count Franz Brunsvik.

Composed in 1804/5, the title was added by the publisher and for once is quite appropiate for this turbulent and dramatic work. The first movement is in the unusual time of 12/8 which adds to the rhythmic drive that dominates the sonata. A set of double variations for the lovely slow movement is followed by the relentlessly powerful finale described by Tovey as ‘torrential passion that rushes headlong to the end of a tragic fate’. It was the manuscript of this sonata that Beethoven was clutching as he fled Gratz castle in 1806 during a storm after a row with Prince Lichnowsky – the water stains are still clearly visible on the manuscript which is in the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris.

Op.78 – Sonata in F# Major published in 1810 by Clementi (London) Dedicated to Thererse Brunsvik, commissioned by Clementi.

Having scaled the heights with Op.53 and Op.57, Beethoven waited several years before composing his next sonata which is far more intimate and concise in nature. There are just 2 movements, but the concentrated expression looks forward at times to the late works. Written in 1809, this highly personal sonata was actually a favourite of Beethoven’s which he regarded as superior to the Moonlight Sonata, and there is no doubt it is the work of a more experienced composer.

Op.79 – Sonata in G major published in 1810 by Clementi (London) Commissioned by Clementi.

The theme for this ‘sonatina’ as it is sometimes called had already appeared as the ‘German song’ from the ‘Ritterballet’ WoO1 no.2 and it originated in the 3rd movement of Mozart’s Violin sonata K.379. Although outwardly simple in its appeal, this sonata of 1809 is no early work accidentally served up late, as the development section of the first movement makes clear.

Op.81a – Sonata in Eb ‘Les Adieux’ published in 1811 bt Breitkopf & Hartel. Dedicated to Archduke Rudolph.

Again dating from 1809/10, Beethoven preferred the German title ‘Das Lebewohl’ – he even spelt the word out in syllables over the opening notes of the piece, but ironically the French title (which he disapproved of) has stuck. Along with the Pathetique, it is the only other sonata that was actually given its title by Beethoven. The sonata depicts the departure from Vienna of Archduke Rudolph and the entire Imperial family during the French bombardment in May 1809 and the movements are individually headed – ‘Das Lebewohl’ (Farewell), ‘Abwesenheit’ (Absence) and ‘Das Wiedersehn’ (The return). The references to the Lebewohl theme throughout the 1st movement foreshadow the technique of Leitmotiv. Written the same year as the Emperor concerto, in the same key and dedicated to the same man. there are similarities in the passage work of the finales of both works.

Op.90 – Sonata in E minor published in 1815 by Steiner. Dedicated to Count Moritz Lichnowsky.

This sonata which opened the gateway to the late sonatas was written in 1814 and is another intimate 2 movement work – the first in the minor and the 2nd in the major key, a scheme Beethoven was to exploit to the full in his last sonata. Beethoven explained the work to Count Moritz Lichnowsky who was about to marry a lady below his station as ‘a struggle between the heart and the head’ followed by a ‘conversation with the beloved’. For this sonata and the following one Beethoven abandoned Italian terms and used German instead, obviously caught up in the mood of nationalism that pervaded the times which culminated in the congress of Vienna.

Late Sonatas Op.101 – Op.111

Around 1815 with the completion of the 2 ‘cello sonatas Op.102, Beethoven entered the final creative phase of his life which was to culminate in 1826 with the last of his great string quartets. 5 piano sonatas were written in these years and along with the Diabelli Variations they take piano music to much deeper levels of expression and spirituality that have never been equalled. Characteristic of these late works is the use of variation form with a working out of motives to their utmost potential, a greater use of counterpoint with fugal textures, new sonorities with wide spacing of the hands and the importance of trills which go way beyond mere decoration, being an inherent part of the musical texture often covering many pages.

Op.101-Sonata in A major published in 1817 by Steiner. Dedicated to Baroness Ertmann.

Another intimate sonata written with Dorothea Von Ertmann in mind – a fine pianist and friend who was renowned for her interpretation of Beethoven’s music. Dating from 1815/16, the sonata opens gently with a continuous lyrical flow, almost like a dream. Schindler said Beethoven described this movement as ‘impressions and reveries’. This is followed by a march in a relentless dotted rhythm and then a slow movement with the soft pedal used throughout that links to the fugal finale by hinting at the opening movement of the sonata. According to Schindler this was the only one of the piano sonatas to receive a public performance in Beethoven’s lifetime on Feb 18th 1816, though it is possible that the sonata performed may have been Op.90.

Op.106 – Sonata in Bb ‘Hammerklavier’ published in 1819 by Artaria. Dedicated to Archduke Rudolph.

This monumental sonata, completed in 1818 and sketched around the same time as the 9th Symphony (though that work was not completed until 1824) expands the four movement plan to epic proportions. The complexities of this work were summed up by a lady in Vienna who complained she had been practising it for months and still could not play the opening! Beethoven was well aware of the difficulties this sonata posed for the pianist and listeners and even went as far as to suggest to Ries that the 4th movement could be left out altogether in order to make the work more accessible for a London audience. The powerful first movement is followed by a scherzo (as in the 9th symphony). The adagio, one of the profoundest and longest single movements in all piano music is followed by a crowning fugal finale to challenge the technique of even the greatest virtuoso.

Op.109 – Sonata in E published in 1821 by Schlesinger. Dedicated to Maximiliane Brentano, commissioned by the publisher.

Dating from 1820 whilst work on the Missa Solemnis and the 9th symphony was still in progress, the first movement’s contemplative nature is shattered by the driving tense prestissimo middle movement. The final movement is a set of variations on one of Beethoven’s most idylic and calmly beautiful themes.

Op.110 – Sonata in Ab published in 1822 by Schlesinger. Commissioned by the publisher.

1821 is the date of this lovely sonata that bears no dedication owing to an oversight by the publisher as it was intended for Antonie Brentano. The words ‘con amabilita’ are inscribed over the opening bars and reveal the warmth and depth of feeling that this music conveys. The 2nd movement is a Scherzo and in 2/4 time marked by dramatic contrasts of dynamics. The finale is highly original in construction – recitative, arioso dolente, fugue, second arioso, second fugue. The arioso is achingly beautiful in its utter despair which is soothed by the fugue theme ‘carved out of marble’ in its perfection. The second fugue is built around the original theme, only turned upside down and this gradually increases in tension and reaches an exultant climax in the joyful last pages.

Op.111 – Sonata in C minor published in 1823 by Schlesinger. Dedicated to Archduke Rudolph (English edition dedicated to Antonie Brentano). Commissioned by the publisher.

The final sonata is in two movements – the first one of immense power and energy which is followed by the arietta, a sublime set of variations of the utmost spiritual intensity. Beethoven rejected many versions of the arietta theme before arriving at its final sublimely simple form. A chain of trills rise higher and higher, in Tovey’s words ‘like an ecstatic vision’.


Despite several attempts to produce operas throughout his life, Beethoven only completed one -‘Fidelio’. The opera is set around a prison in Seville, Spain and concerns a man Florestan who is unjustly imprisoned by his political opponent, the prison governor Pizarro. Florestan’s wife Leonore refuses to believe reports that her husband is dead and determines to save him. She disguises herself as a man Fidelio and is employed as assistant to the jailor Rocco. On hearing that the minister Don Fernando plans an inspection of the prison as he has heard of the injustices, Pizarroresolves to kill Florestan. At that moment, Leonore reveals her true identity and threatens to shoot Pizarro – the trumpet sounds heralding the arrival of Don FernandoPizarro is lead away and Leonore given the keys to unlock her husband’s chains – a great hymn of joy, celebrating the power of love concludes the opera.

The history of the work

1803 Emmanuel Schikaneder (1751-1812) engaged Beethoven to write an opera for the Theater an der Wien and invited him to take up lodgings in the theatre for free. His brother, Caspar shared the lodgings looking after the composer’s business affairs. The opera “Vestas Feuer” was planned for March 1804.

4 Jan 1804 Vestas Feuer discarded, 81 pages of the autograph score still exist (the opening scene) Beethoven obtained a libretto of Bouilly’s “Leonore” which Joseph Sonnleithner (1766-1835) had adapted and translated from the French. The text had already been set by the French composer Pierre Gaveaux (1761-1825) and was produced on Feb 19th 1798. The Italian composer Ferdinando Paer (1771-1839) produced his version on Oct 3 1804.

14 Feb 1804 Theater an der Wien came under the control of Baron Von Braun, negating Beethoven’s contract with Schikaneder. Beethoven was temporarily forced to give up his lodgings at the theatre, but Von Braun engaged Schikaneder and the contract for an opera from Beethoven was renewed.

Summer 1805 Main work done on Fidelio at Hetzendorf

15 Oct 1805 First performance of the work planned. This was delayed due to censorship of some parts of the libretto.
13 Nov 1805 French troops occupied Vienna. Most of the Viennese nobility and Beethoven’s friends left the city.
20 Nov 1805 First performance, mainly in front of French officers in a half empty opera house. The conductor was Ignaz von Seyfried. The overture now known as Leonore no.2 was used.
21 and 22 Nov 1805 After two further performances in front of empty houses, Beethoven withdrew the Opera.
Dec 1805 A piano run through at Prince Lichnowsky’s palace during which Beethoven’s friends urged cuts to the opera.
1806 Beethoven engaged Stefan von Breuning to adapt the libretto. The three acts were reduced to two. The principal numbers removed were an aria for Pizarro and chorus, a duet for Marzelline and Leonora, and a trio for Marzelline, Jaquino and Rocco.
29 March 1806 First performance of the second version after only one orchestral rehearsal. The overture now known as Leonore no.3 was used.
10 April 1806 After the second performance Beethoven stormed out of the Opera House with the full score after an argument over payments. He refused to put on the opera again.
1807 The Overture Leonore no.1 Op.138 was written for an intended performance at Prague which never materialised.
Early 1814 The Opera was again revived for a benefit concert, but with substantial changes made. Treitschke was brought in to change the libretto once again. Beethoven, pleased with the results wrote to him ‘it has decided me to rebuild the desolate ruins of an ancient fortress.’ Treitschke rewrote much of the libretto and Beethoven made considerable changes to the music, restoring some of the pages from before the first revision.
23 May 1814 First performance of Fidelio in the new version at the Kärnthnerthor theatre with Umlauf conducting. It was a tremendous success. A new overture was written, now known as ‘Fidelio’ – unlike its predecessors this overture makes no use of melodic material from the opera.
18 July 1814 7th performance at which all benefits go to Beethoven.
21 November 1814 First performance outside Vienna takes place in Prague.
3 November 1822 Further revival in Vienna
May 18 1832 – First London performance of Fidelio at the King’s Theatre.
Sep 19th 1839 – First New York performance at the Park Theatre

Anna Milder-Hauptmann    Joseph Demmer

Original Cast 1805

Don Fernando…Weinkopf

Don Pizarro…….S.Mayer +

Florestan………..Joseph Demmer*

Leonore………….Anna Milder **


Marcellina………Louise Müller



1806 Revival

Don Fernando…Weinkopf

Don Pizarro…….S.Mayer

Florestan………. J.Röckel***

Leonore………….Anna Milder


Marcellina………Louise Müller



1814 Revival

Don Fernando..Ignaz Saal

Don Pizarro……Johann M.Vogl


Leonore………….Anna Milder

Rocco……………..Carl Weinmüller

Marcellina………Theresa Bondra



* Beethoven was disatisfied with the tenor Joseph Demmer and replaced him in the 1806 revival with Joseph Röckel

** Anna Milder (1785-1838) married in 1810 and was known as Anna Milder-Hauptmann – she later became a champion of Schubert’s songs. At the famous concert of Dec 22 1808 she was to have been the soloist in a performance of the aria ‘Ah, perfido!’ but refused to perform as Beethoven had offended her. Clearly any differences were forgotten as she sang the part of Leonore yet again in the 1814 revival of Fidelio. Beethoven wrote the canon ‘Ich kuesse Sie, druecke Sie an mein Herz’, Hess 250 for her in 1816.

*** Josef August Röckel (1783-1870) came to Vienna from Salzburg. In 1813 Hummel married the singer Elisabeth Röckel (1793-1883), sister of August and well known to Beethoven.

Friedrich Sebastian Mayer (1773-1835)

++Michael Umlauf (1781-1842). Conducted the 1814 revival of Fidelio and the premier of the 9th symphony in 1824.

+++Ignaz Von Seyfried (1776-1841). A pupil of Mozart and Albrechtsberger whose complete works on thoroughbass, harmony and composition were published, in three volumes, by Seyfried. From 1797-1825 he was Kapellmeister at the Theatre an der Wien. He was an editor of the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung. Franz von Suppe(1819-1895) was a pupil of his. He later wrote of the premier of the 3rd piano concerto – “At the performance of the concerto he asked me to turn the pages for him (Beethoven, of course, was the piano soloist); but — heaven help me! — that was easier said than done. I saw almost nothing but empty leaves; at the most on one page or the other, a few Egyptian hieroglyphics, wholly unintelligible to me, scribbled down to serve as clues for him; for he played nearly all the solo part from memory; since, as was so often the case he had not had time to put it on paper. He gave me a secret glance whenever he was at the end of one of the invisible passages, and my scarcely concealed anxiety not to miss the decisive moment amused him greatly….”

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