BEETHOVEN: Bagatelles and Dances, Vol. 1 (Ibolya Toth/ Jeno Jando) (Naxos: 8.553795)
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Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Piano Pieces Volume 1
Ludwig vanBeethoven was born in Bonn
in 1770. His father was still employed as a singer in the chapel of theArchbishop-Elector of Cologne
,of which his grandfather, after whom he was named, had served as Kapellmeister. The family was not ahappy one, with his mother always ready to reproach Beethoven's father with hisown inadequacies, his drunkenness and gambling, with the example of the old Kapellmeister held up as a standard ofcompetence that he was unable to match. In due course Beethoven followed familyexample and entered the service of the court, as organist, harpsichordist andstring-player and his potential was such that he was sent by the Archbishop to Vienna for lessons with Mozart, only to be recalled to Bonn by the illness ofhis mother. At her death he assumed responsibility for the family, the care ofhis two younger brothers, with whose subsequent lives he interfered and themanagement of whatever resources came to his father from the court.
In 1792Beethoven returned to Vienna
He had met Haydn in Bonn
and was now sent to take lessons from him. He was an impatient pupil and laterclaimed to have learned nothing from Haydn. He profited, however, from lessonswith Albrechtsberger in counterpoint and with Salieri in Italian word-settingand the introductions he brought with him from Bonn
ensured a favourable reception fromleading members of the nobility. His patrons, over the years, acted towards himwith extraordinary forbearance and generosity, tolerating his increasingeccentricities. These were accentuated by the onset of deafness at the turn ofthe century and the necessity of abandoning his career as a virtuoso pianist infavour of a concentration on composition.
During thefollowing 25 years Beethoven developed his powers as a composer. His earlycompositions had reflected the influences of the age, but in the new century hebegan to enlarge the inherent possibilities of classical forms. In his ninesymphonies he created works of such size and intensity as to present a serious challengeto composers of later generations. Much the same might be said of his pianosonatas, in which he took advantage of the new technical possibilities of the instrument,which was now undergoing a number of changes. An increasing characteristic ofhis writing was to be heard in his use of counterpoint, an element that somecontemporaries rejected as 'learned', and in notable innovations, some ofwhich, in contemporary terms, went beyond mere eccentricity.
SociallyBeethoven was isolated by his deafness. There were problems in the care of hisnephew Karl, after the death of the boy's father, bringing litigation with thelatter's mother. His loudly voiced political indiscretions were tolerated bythe authorities in the repressive years that followed Waterloo
and he continued to enjoy thesupport of friends, including his pupil Archduke Rudolph. In Vienna
, in fact, he became an institution, atthe passing of which, in 1827, there was general mourning.
During thecourse of his life Beethoven wrote a quantity of short piano pieces. Many ofthese remained without an Opus number, their listing indicated as WoO, Workswithout Opus Number, although they may have been published in the composer'slifetime. The present collection of short pieces opens with the best known ofall, a Bagatelle in A minor, WoO 59
, inscribed,it once seemed, f??r Elise
(forElise), but generally supposed to have been designed for Ther?¿se Malfatti, whomhe had hoped to marry. She gave him no encouragement and the match was stronglyand understandably opposed by her parents. The little piece was completed in1810, the year of Beethoven's rejection as a suitor. The piece is followed hereby a Bagatelle in B flat major, WoO 60
,written in 1818 and published in the Berlinerallgemeine musikalische Zeitung
in 1824. The Allegretto quasi andante in G minor, WoO 61a
, a brief contrapuntalfragment, was written in 1825 and inscribed to the daughter of Dr CharlesBurney, Sarah Bumey Payne, who visited Beethoven in that year. Counterpointagain plays a part in the Allegretto in Bminor, WoO 61
, written in 1821. This was for the album of FerdinandPiringer, who became a close friend of Beethoven and served as assistantconductor for the Concerts spirituels
at the Landhaussaal in Vienna
Beethovenwrote various sets of dances during his earlier years in Vienna
. A sign of the esteem in which he wassoon held is to be seen in the commission to provide sets of dances for theRedoutensaal ball of November 1795. The annual balls had been established in1792, with dances specially composed by Haydn. In the following years therewere contributions from Kozeluch, the court composer, and in 1794 from Dittersdorf.
In 1795 Mozart's pupil S??ssmayr provided music for the larger hall andBeethoven for the smaller. These were sets of Twelve Minuets
and the TwelveGennan Dances, WoO 8
, the latter surviving only in the publishedarrangement for piano in which they soon appeared. The set of Seven Landler, WoO 11 was probably writtenin 1798, scored, presumably, for two violins and bass. It was published in apiano version in Vienna
in the following year. All seven Landler
are in D major and end with a formal coda. A further set of Six Landler was completed in 1802 andsimilarly scored, with a piano version appearing in Vienna in the same year. Once again the samekey of D major is generally preserved, with one dance in the minor.
The undatedMinuet in C major, with its contrastingTrio, suggests music for the pianorather than for the ballroom. The SixMinuets, WoO 10 seem to date from 1795. Each minuet has its necessary trio andthe set makes a sequence of keys, C, G, E flat, B flat, D and C. The best knownof all these must be the famous Minuet inG, familiar from generations of beginners at the keyboard. These danceswere presumably originally scored for other instruments, but survive only in apiano version.