About this Recording
8.573337 - BEETHOVEN, L. van: 6 National Airs with Variations / 10 National Airs with Variations (Gallois, Prinz)
English 

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827)
Variations on Folk Songs, Opp. 105 and 107
(Performing version by Patrick Gallois)

 

It was in 1803 that Beethoven had his first contact with George Thomson, an employee of the Board of Trustees for the Encouragement of Art and Manufactures in Scotland and a keen amateur musician. Thomson had made it his task to collect and publish settings of folk songs. To this end he commissioned composers, chiefly in Vienna, to provide the arrangements he thought suitable for his ambitions. Haydn’s pupil and London rival Pleyel worked for Thomson in 1793, followed in 1797 by Koželuch, until 1809, and eventually even Haydn himself. Following the pattern of his early collaboration with Pleyel and Koželuch, Thomson, in a letter of 5 July 1803, suggested that Beethoven should supply him with some sonatas making use of Scottish airs. Beethoven’s reply, suggesting a fee of three hundred ducats, brought the matter to a close for the moment; Thomson would only pay half that sum for six sonatas. The following year Beethoven suggested another arrangement to Thomson, allowing publication of whatever works were composed in other major cities; he enclosed a price-list, ranging from thirty ducats for a symphony to eight ducats for variations with or without accompaniment.

The next surviving communication between Beethoven and Thomson came in November 1806, when Beethoven replied to a proposal of July 1806 by Thomson. Writing in French, Beethoven is unwilling to compose for the flute, which he describes as too limited and imperfect, but suggests a number of works, string trios, quartets and other compositions. The same letter includes in a postscript the matter of harmonising some little Scottish airs, a task for which, Beethoven says, Haydn was paid a pound for each air. The correspondence is resumed in 1809, when once again Beethoven lays down his terms, now for the arrangement of 43 Scottish airs, to which it seems Thomson is adding words, bowdlerised versions of existing verses or new words, a subject that arises again in further correspondence in the following years, during which Beethoven supplied Thomson with arrangements of Scottish and other airs. Thomson continues to insist on settings that will be playable by amateurs in Scotland, who, it seems, could hardly be expected to cope with cross-rhythms at the keyboard. In his letters to Thomson Beethoven repeatedly protests at Thomson’s requirement of ease of performance, while Thomson always has in mind the popular amateur market for which he intends his publications. The correspondence continues, delayed at times by the disturbed state of Europe. Beethoven sets Irish airs, and is asked for works on folk songs from other countries; he needs to drive as hard a bargain as he can with Thomson, who protests that he is losing money and constantly stresses the poor standards of performance in Great Britain.

It is only in February 1818 that Beethoven suggests to Thomson that he supply him with twelve themes and variations, for which he asks a hundred ducats. Thomson agrees, but by January 1819 complains that “Our Scotch ladies can’t surely be as strong as yours”, as one of the best players has had to give up the Tirolese themes in despair. By March 1819 Beethoven’s patience is exhausted. Thomson had asked for some simplification of the themes and variations. Beethoven’s reply was direct: “Vous écrivez toujours facile, très facile – je m’accomode tout mon possible, mais – mais –mais” (“You always write easy, very easy – I try to accommodate you as much as I can, but – but – but”). The correspondence comes to an end in the following year, when Thomson complains that the variations, for which he has paid £94, have not sold well and he would be willing to part with them for sale in Vienna. In the event the variations were sold in 1830 for £50 to Paine and Hopkins in London. In 1819 Thomson in Edinburgh and Preston in London had published Twelve National Airs with Variations for the Piano and an Accompaniment for the Flute. In the event only three of a projected four volumes were published, the six variations of Op. 105 and Nos. 2, 6 and 7 of Op. 107. In 1819 Artaria in Vienna published Op. 105 as Six Thèmes Variés bien faciles à exécuter pour Piano-Forte seul ou avec accompagnement dune Flûte ou dun violon (ad libitum) (Six Varied Themes easy to play for the Pianoforte alone or with accompaniment of flute or violin, ad lib). In 1820 Simrock published Op. 107 as Dix Thèmes Russes, Ecossais et Tyroliens Variés pour le Piano-Forte avec accompagnement dune Flûte ou dun Violon ad libitum (Ten Themes, Russian, Scottish and Tyrolean, Varied for Pianoforte, with optional accompaniment for flute or violin, Op. 107). It will be noticed that Simrock and Artaria had added a possible optional violin, with Artaria at first adapting the accompanying part to suit the resources of that instrument.

The first collection of themes and variations starts with The cottage maid, described as a Welsh song and, in Beethoven’s setting of Welsh airs, given words by Thomson’s collaborator William Smyth, Professor of History at Cambridge. The theme, marked Andantino quasi Allegretto, is followed by a variation for piano alone and a second variation with a left-hand triplet semiquaver accompaniment. The third variation is straightforward, leading to a tonic minor contrapuntal version of the theme and a brief conclusion. The second piece, Von edlem Geschlecht war Shinkin (Of noble stock was Shinkin), described as a Scottish air, its theme marked Allegretto scherzoso, is in C minor, with answering phrases, continued in the first variation and the second. The third is a major key Allegretto, capped by a final return to the minor key, an Allegro, the theme in canon between the lower keyboard part and the flute, with a continuing right-hand trill on the keyboard. The Austrian A Schüsserl und a Reindl (A dish and a pot is all my kitchenware), in C major, with the direction Andantino quasi Allegretto, allows additional ornamentation for the flute in the repeated sections of the melody and its six variations the fifth of which is a minor key Adagio, followed by a sixth, Andante con moto. The last rose of summer, a traditional Irish melody for which Thomas Moore supplied the now familiar words, is in E flat. Its first variation, originally for piano alone, is here aptly augmented by the flute, which, in the second variation, bears the melody over a semiquaver keyboard accompaniment, with the third variation accompanied by rapid piano figuration, before an unusual twist in the closing bars. The fifth theme, the traditional Irish jig Chiling OGuiry, marked Allegro spiritoso, allows some freedom of interpretation in its first variation, followed by a variation with rapid keyboard figuration and crossing of hands, with a final variation in duple metre. Still in Ireland, Paddy whack has the tempo direction Allegretto piuttosto vivace and is in D major, its second variation allowing the flautist to add figuration echoing that of the piano. The third variation switches to B flat major, the original key triumphantly restored in the fourth version of the theme.

Opus 107 starts with the characteristic Austrian I bin a Tiroler Bua (I am a Tyrolean lad), the first variation of its E flat melody in the higher register of the keyboard. A second variation with a running semiquaver accompaniment is followed by an excursion into E minor and a fourth variation with a triplet quaver keyboard accompaniment. Marked Allegretto quasi vivace and in F major, the Scottish Bonny laddie, highland laddie ends each version of the theme with a sudden silence, broken only in the second variation by the flute. The fourth variation is Andante mosso alla siciliana, followed by a return to the spirit of the original theme. Volkslied aus Kleinrußland (Folksong from Little Russia), Vivace and in G major, offers scope for additional ornamentation from the flute in its repeated sections and an addition to the second variation. The fifth variation offers dynamic contrasts, leading to an Adagio sostenuto, followed by an initially contrapuntal treatment of the theme, replaced by the rapid keyboard triplet figuration of the closing section. The Allegretto scherzando F major Irish St Patricks Day entrusts the first variation to the piano, leading to rapid keyboard figuration in the second and a minor key Poco adagio, before the fourth, a Vivace, with cadenzas for each instrument and a fifth, Moderato, before a short return to the original theme and tempo in conclusion. In the same key the Austrian A Madel, ja a Madel (A maiden, yes a maiden) seems to have defeated the Edinburgh ladies, with an even more demanding keyboard part. The second variation contrasts heavy octaves with gentler material and the the third leads to a Maestoso interlude, before the final demanding Allegro. Peggys daughter, for which Anne Hunter, wife of the London surgeon and friend of Haydn, provided words in Beethoven’s 26 Welsh Songs, has a gentle Andante comodo lilt, the mood changing in the fourth and final Vivace variation. The Ukrainian Schöe Minka (Fair Minka, I must leave you) has six variations, with a final brief excursion into A major, before a return to the prevailing key of A minor. O Mary, at the (recte thy) window be, a Scottish melody for which Thomson’s friend, Burns, provided words, has four variations, a piano cadenza leading from the fourth to the cheerful final version of the theme. Oh, thou art the lad of my heart, a Scottish tune for which Smyth provided a text, has a characteristic melody. The fourth of its five variations is in the tonic minor of E flat, leading to a final major Vivace. The set remains in Scotland for the final The highland watch, its text in the song publication written by James Hogg on the return of the 42nd Highland Regiment from the battle of Waterloo The theme is in G minor and marked Spiritoso e marciale, the quicker third variation in the major, followed by a fourth, marked Andante espressivo, leading to a final Allegro, to end a series in which Beethoven displayed the power of his imagination at a time when life presented him with many difficulties.

Keith Anderson

A Note on the Performance by Patrick Gallois

The present performance offers a version of Beethoven’s folk-song arrangements for piano and flute based on the performance practice of the early eighteenth century. The flute, a second voice in these pieces, adds an improvisatory element, suggested, in part, by the treatment of the second voice in the version of these works for piano and violin. There remains, however, a certain difficulty in recording performances that contain freer interpretations that would inevitably vary in live performance.

The period between 1750 and 1850 brought the flute into particular prominence, with a demand for flute tutors and methods and a supply of transcriptions and compositions for the instrument. The flute version of Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto, for example, was issued in 1801, before the clarinet version. The flute methods of the time give explanations of technique, sound, phrasing, tonguing, as well as of ornamentation and choice of vibrato. They reflect the popularity of the flute at a time when cultivated women might play the harpsichord or the harp, while men played the flute.

Performance of Beethoven’s folk song variations calls for a measure of improvisatory freedom in interpretation. What becomes fixed in a recording, changes in performance.

A Note on the Recording by Maria Prinz

The idea for this recording was born during my first meeting with Klaus Heymann in October 2011 in Hong Kong. We spoke about repertoire for flute and piano. I told Mr. Heymann about the “Viennese classics” programme for flute and piano, played by the Vienna Philharmonic flautist Dieter Flury and myself in the Weill Hall/Carnegie Hall, including Variation, Op. 7, No. 7 “The beautiful Minka” by Beethoven.

This idea had to wait three years before realisation, as my first flute-piano project for Naxos was the recording of Patrick Gallois’ arrangement for flute and piano of Mozart’s Violin Sonatas Nos. 24–26 (Naxos 8.573033). This new recording will always be connected with the memory of the last weeks of my husband, the great clarinettist Alfred Prinz, who died on September 20th 2014. Those were for me weeks of hope and sorrow, of hours spent in hospital with my husband, who was seriously ill. I am very grateful to Klaus Heymann and Patrick Gallois for agreeing to dedicate this recording to the memory of Alfred Prinz.

Beethoven’s Variations, Opp. 105 and 107 are a dream and a challenge (as all late Beethoven works are) for every pianist, but not so much for the flautist. Beethoven’s and the editor’s indication is “Variations for piano solo or with accompaniment of a flute ad libitum”. In a letter dated December 1817, the Scottish folk-song collector and publisher George Thomson (who commissioned the variations) wrote to the composer: ” You must write the variations in a familiar, easy and slightly brilliant style, so that the greatest number of our ladies can play and enjoy them.” This requirement may have been an advantage in Beethoven days, but it may also explain why the variations are not played often nowadays, being insufficiently attractive for the professional flutist. Patrick Gallois found a solution to this problem by upgrading the flute part, based on the practice of improvisation and ornamentation in the tradition of the Viennese classics and creating a much richer and more virtuoso version of the flute part. We both enjoyed very much working on those ingenious variations, trying to find a specific sonority and atmosphere for each one.


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