About this Recording
8.573942 - BEETHOVEN, L. van: Music for Winds - Octet, Op. 103 / Sextet, Op. 71 (Shifrin, Paul Wonjin Cho, Morelli, Olegario, Purvis, L. Hunt)

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827)
March for in B flat major, WoO 29 (1797–98) • Wind Octet in E flat major, Op. 103 (1792) • Wind Sextet in E flat major, Op. 71 (1796) • Rondino in E flat major, WoO 25 (1792)


In 1792 Beethoven left his native city of Bonn to seek his fortune in the imperial capital, Vienna. Five years earlier his patron, the Archbishop of Cologne, a scion of the imperial family, had sent him to Vienna, where he had hoped to have lessons with Mozart. His plans were frustrated by the illness and subsequent death of his mother, which made it necessary to return to Bonn and before long to take charge of the welfare of his younger brothers. Beethoven’s father, overshadowed by the eminence of his own father, Kapellmeister to a former Archbishop, had proved inadequate both as a musician and in the family, of which his son now took control.

As a boy Beethoven had been trained to continue family tradition as a musician and had followed his father and grandfather as a member of the archiepiscopal musical establishment. In 1792 he arrived in Vienna with introductions to various members of the nobility and with the offer of lessons with Haydn, from whom he later claimed to have learned nothing. There were further lessons from the court composer, Antonio Salieri, and from Johann Georg Albrechtsberger, and an initial career of some brilliance as a keyboard virtuoso. He was to establish himself, in the course of time, as a figure of remarkable genius and originality and as a social eccentric; no respecter of persons, his eccentricity all the greater for his increasing deafness. This last disability made public performance, whether as a keyboard player or in the direction of his own music, increasingly difficult, and must have served to encourage the development of one particular facet of his music, stigmatised by hostile contemporary critics as ‘learned’—the use of counterpoint. He died in Vienna in 1827.

Works for wind ensemble formed a regular element of contemporary entertainment. Beethoven’s Octet, later published as Op. 103, was written by 1792, to be played by the musicians of his patron, the Archbishop-Elector in Bonn. It seems to have been among the works that caused some embarrassment for Beethoven and for his teacher, Haydn. Beethoven’s initial stay in Vienna, where he had arrived in November 1792, was paid for by the Elector, and lessons with Haydn were supposed to help him develop his abilities. To illustrate his pupil’s progress Haydn had sent examples of his work to Bonn, including the Octet, together with a plea for money. The Elector, in his reply to Haydn, pointed out that the works sent had been written before Beethoven left for Vienna and suggested that he ought perhaps to return to his duties as a musician in Bonn. The Elector’s reservations may be well understood. Whatever the talents of Beethoven may have been, his family had a bad name in Bonn, and his earlier sponsored visit to Vienna, to study with Mozart, had, for no fault of his own, come to nothing but debts.

Beethoven’s March in B flat major, WoO 29, for two clarinets, two horns and two bassoons, was written in 1797–98 and only published many years after the composer’s death. A march often opened a wind partita, and here makes a suitable introduction to the more substantial works recorded.

The Octet in E flat major, Op. 103, scored for pairs of oboes, clarinets, horns and bassoons, completed by 1792, is motivically related to the String Quintet, Op. 4, advertised by the publisher, truthfully enough, as a completely new work. The competence of the wind ensemble in the Archbishop-Elector’s service in Bonn, now with clarinets as well as oboes, will have provided a stimulus for Beethoven’s early skill in instrumental writing, immediately apparent in the opening sonata-allegro movement, in which a motif first heard from the oboe has a significant part to play. In the B flat major second movement an oboe first takes the lead, followed by the bassoon. The Minuet and Trio have more of a scherzo about them and the piece ends with a vigorous and lively Presto.

The Sextet in E flat major, Op. 71, scored for pairs of clarinets, horns and bassoons, was written in 1796, a further example of Beethoven’s interest in wind instruments at this time. The first movement starts with a slow ten-bar introduction, after which the clarinet leads into the first subject of a sonata-allegro movement. The second movement is a B flat major Adagio, led initially by the first bassoon, and the Minuet, marked Quasi allegretto, is started by the horns, with a Trio in which the second clarinet enters in imitation of its fellow. The work ends with a lively Rondo, with duly contrasting episodes.

Beethoven’s Rondino in E flat major, WoO 25, for wind octet, was originally intended as the finale to the Octet, composed in Bonn, before his departure for Vienna in November 1792. With the tempo indication Andante, the Rondino lacks the ebullience generally expected in a rondo-finale. Here the Rondo provides a framework for music of more meditative appeal.

Keith Anderson

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