performed by Gidon Kremer and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe under Nikolaus Harnoncourt, or below by Itzhak Perlman and the Berlin Philharmonic under Daniel Barenboim
(cover image by Steven Wang)
As we saw and (I think) discussed at the beginning of the year, Beethoven was more than just a keyboard player, but was apparently a very capable violinist, although perhaps not the prodigy he was on the keyboard. He had at least some degree of proficiency on the violin and the viola, but (perhaps unsurprisingly) never actually wrote very much for the latter.
Almost a month ago, we began our discussion of Beethoven’s compositions for violin (never having appeared before on the blog) with the three violin sonatas of op. 12. In case you missed it, they were written in 1798. Interestingly, though, despite the op. 50 numbering of today’s piece, it dates from around the same time.
The F major work gets the ‘no. 2’ designation and this higher opus number for a few reasons. For one, it was written in 1798 but not published until 1805, after yet another romance for violin and orchestra, this time in G major. That is given the earlier opus number 40, and we’ll discuss more about it tomorrow. This is also why we’re discussing them in what may appear to be the ‘wrong’ order, but it is the one in which they were written, even if there was a bit of time between them.
This work, like tomorrow’s, despite the ‘romance’ title is in a simple rondo form. I thought about addressing these two pieces in the same article because I’ll be repeating myself quite a bit in independent articles, but they are separate pieces.
This work, the longer of the two, coming up on eight minutes in Kremer’s recording, is a rondo with a few episodes, its structure often expressed as ABACA with a coda. Obviously the A theme, appearing three times, is the backbone of the work, and it is finished by a strong dotted figure that punctuates this first ‘sentence’, so look for that at the end. Strings state it, and woodwinds echo, as happens with the
The B section is mostly taken over by an aria-like solo part that leads back to the A section, as you can hear. After that, we get the same closing statement that finishes the A theme, but the close of the B theme, as suggests John Palmer at AllMusic, foreshadows the minor-key C section before finishing up with the A theme again, and a coda that wraps everything up, introducing no new material.
This may be by far the shortest article I’ve written in a very long time, but there just isn’t a whole lot to say about the piece. As early as it is, coming from around the same time as those earliest violin sonatas, it’s not very complicated, but we can see things like how the rondo structure is handled, contrast with minor keys, the use of the coda, etc., so it’s more than just a pretty tune. But it certainly is that.
Can you hear this as some kind of prototype middle movement to an early concerto that never was? We may usually think of a rondo as the form for a final movement, but this sweetly beautiful little independent movement seems like leftover footage, scenes from a film that was never finished. There was, in fact, a concerto in C that I think was never finished, given the number WoO 5, or Hess 10.
In any case, it’s a sweet, simple little sample of how Beethoven may have been thinking about a violin concerto early in his career. With the opus numbers 40 and 50, one may see them as a warmup for the op. 61 violin concerto, but that apparently isn’t really the case since they’re so much earlier than that work, but we might talk a little bit more about that tomorrow. That’s all for now, but do stay tuned for a bit more Beethoven this week, culminating in one of his most famous pieces. Thank you so much for reading.