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8.573928 - BEETHOVEN, L. van: Compositions and Transcriptions for Piano (Military Beethoven) (C. Petersson)

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827)
Military Beethoven: Compositions and Transcriptions for Piano


During the course of his life Beethoven wrote a quantity of piano pieces. Many of these remained without an opus number, their listing indicated, in a catalogue by Georg Kinsky and Hans Halm as WoO, ‘Werke ohne Opuszahl’ (‘Works without Opus Number’), although they may have been published in the composer’s lifetime. A catalogue by the Swiss musicologist Willy Hess was issued in the 1950s, listing unpublished or unfinished pieces, some of which were included in the WoO catalogue. In addition to the works with opus number, those given as WoO and Hess pieces, there is an attempt at a catalogue of all then known works in chronological order by Giovanni Biamonti. The majority of works included here appear with WoO or Hess numbers.

Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Bonn in 1770. His father was still employed as a singer in the chapel of the Archbishop-Elector of Cologne, of which his grandfather, after whom he was named, had served as Kapellmeister. The family was not a happy one, with his mother always ready to reproach Beethoven’s father with his own inadequacies, his drunkenness and gambling, with the example of the old Kapellmeister held up as a standard of competence that he was unable to match. In due course Beethoven followed family example and entered the service of the court, as organist, harpsichordist and string player and his promise was such that he was sent by the Archbishop to Vienna for lessons with Mozart, only to be recalled to Bonn by the illness of his mother. At her death he assumed responsibility for the family, the care of his two younger brothers, with whose subsequent lives he interfered and the management of whatever resources came to his father from the court.

In 1792 Beethoven returned to Vienna. He had met Haydn in Bonn and was now sent to take lessons from him. He was an impatient pupil and later claimed to have learned nothing from Haydn. He profited, however, from lessons with Albrechtsberger in counterpoint and with Salieri in Italian word setting and the introductions he brought with him from Bonn ensured a favourable reception from leading members of the nobility. His patrons, over the years, acted towards him with extraordinary forbearance and generosity, tolerating his increasing eccentricities. These were accentuated by the onset of deafness at the turn of the century and the necessity of abandoning his career as a virtuoso pianist in favour of a concentration on composition.

During the following 25 years Beethoven developed his powers as a composer. His early compositions had reflected the influences of the age, but in the new century he began to enlarge the inherent possibilities of classical forms. In his nine symphonies he created works of such size and intensity as to present a serious challenge to composers of later generations. Much the same might be said of his piano sonatas, in which he took advantage of the new technical possibilities of the instrument, which was now undergoing a number of changes. An increasing characteristic of his writing was to be heard in his use of counterpoint, an element that some contemporaries rejected as ‘learned’, and in notable innovations, some of which, in contemporary terms, went beyond mere eccentricity.

Among Beethoven’s early benefactors was Count Waldstein, a friend of the Archbishop-Elector, member of the Teutonic Order, and a man of wide interests and distinguished ancestry. It was he who, in 1791, planned and had performed in Bonn the Ritterballett (‘Ballet of the Knights’), with music by Beethoven that was at first credited to him. The ballet, in traditional German costume, represented the chief elements of German life, hunting, love, fighting, dancing and drinking, illustrated in a series of scenes, divided by a German song. The script and full details of the work have been lost, but Beethoven’s score survives in orchestral form and in a piano transcription.

Beethoven’s Six Easy Variations on an Original Theme date from 1800, with a G major theme related to an element in the Rondo of the Sonata in B flat major, Op. 22 of the same year. Beethoven’s many sets of variations include topical versions of God save the King and Rule Britannia, written in the summer of 1803 and published the following year.

Beethoven’s much maligned Battle Symphony, Wellington’s Victory or the Battle of Vitoria is a piece of programme music, topical at the time of its composition in 1813, the year of the victory of the Duke of Wellington over the forces of Napoleon at Vitoria, and designed for a newly invented machine, the Panharmonicon. The inventor Mälzel, Vienna court mechanician and later developer of the new pendulum metronome, had designed his machine on the lines of the traditional music box, and planned Beethoven’s addition to its repertoire as a further patriotic attraction. Circumstances led to a change of plan, and Beethoven was asked to orchestrate the work, free of the technical restrictions imposed by the Panharmonicon, for use in a charity concert in aid of those wounded at the Battle of Hanau. The first performance of a work that won immediate popularity with the public was on 12 November. The event, intended to raise money also for the expenses of Mälzel and Beethoven in a planned journey to London, was important in drawing public attention to Beethoven and, at the second performance in December, raising more money. Beethoven quarrelled with Mälzel over the attribution of the piece, and the latter drew little advantage from the affair, and no credit for his part in planning the outline of the Battle Symphony, which Beethoven used for his sole profit in a third concert in January 1814. The work includes trumpet signals for battle from the English and French armies, Rule Britannia, Marlborough s’en va-t-en guerre, (otherwise known as For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow), gun-fire and a fugue based on God Save the King, and was dedicated to the Prince Regent, later George IV of England, in an effort by Beethoven to anticipate Mälzel’s arrival in London and deprive him of any possible credit, which later became a matter of litigation. The piano transcription was published in 1816.

1813 brought a Triumphal March for the opening of the second act of Christoph Kuffner’s play Tarpeja, based on the legend of Tarpeja’s betrayal to the Sabines of the gateway to Rome. The original and a corrected version of a transcribed March, Hess 87, date from 1797/98, the original versions scored for pairs of clarinets, horns and bassoons. The transcription of a March for the Bohemian Territorial Army dates from 1809, when a form of conscription was in force, and is dedicated to Archduke Anton of Austria. Beethoven writes of the work as his ‘music for horses’ in a letter of 1810 to Archduke Rudolph, referring to an imperial horse show, held that summer at Laxenburg.

The piano score of the Scherzo of the Piano Trio, Op. 1, No. 2, from 1794–99 survives in a fragment, here completed and revised by Carl Petersson. The Minuet in A flat major, with a contrasting minor section, has been dated to about 1792 and may well have been originally conceived as a piano piece. The Minuet in F major is listed by Biamonti as Bia. 66, and the Minuet in D minor, Gardi 10 is here revised and edited by Lars Bisgaard. There are tragic overtones in the Waltz in C minor, of 1803, partly dispelled in the Bagatelle, WoO 81. The present collection ends with an English dance, Anglaise, and two dances from Scotland, the second Ecossaise perhaps originally intended for wind band, but transcribed for piano by Carl Czerny.

Keith Anderson


It should not surprise the reader that the great virtuoso transcriptions come from an age when the mightiest pianists walked the earth. The art of transcription didn’t begin in the Romantic era but reached its flower with masters such as Liszt, Tausig and Godowsky. This was an art form not invented by them but taken to the highest level of accomplishment. Certainly they were preceded by Beethoven who’s improvisational abilities made him the most important pianist of his day before deafness set in. These works by Beethoven might fall under the rubric 'also ran', yet they had lives of their own in their time. Wellington’s Victory was a very topical piece of writing during the Napoleonic era, boosting English morale no less than 'We’re going to hang the washing on the Siegfried line' did in the darkest days of the Second World War. It was programmed and given extra performances throughout London and certainly presages Tchaikovsky’s 1812. While, the Ritterballet shows Beethoven’s ability to create as a journeyman composer. Along with the lesser-known pieces on this album we will hopefully enjoy a different side of this greatest of composers.

Carl Petersson

I would like to dedicate this recording to my parents, Anna and Rune Petersson. – Carl Petersson

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