BEETHOVEN: Bagatelles and Dances, Vol. 2 (Jeno Jando) (Naxos: 8.553798)
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Born at Bonn-on-Rhine on December 1770, Ludwig van Beethoven was to become the world's most famous composer after the death of Mozart. He came from a family of musicians, his grandfather, whom he was named after, was a singer of repute, an opera composer and conductor. His father was a tenor in the Electoral choir in Bonn, and it was he who taught Ludwig music from the age of four. It is reported that he was proficient in the violin at the age of 8, and by 11 could perform Bach's major works at the keyboard. As a teenager he was sent to Vienna to study with Haydn, who he claimed neglected him, and he was taught in secret by Schenck. By this time he had already written a cantata at the age of 11, and the following year he had three piano sonatas published. By the age of 14 he was earning money as an organist and violinist, but three years later he suffered the double tragedy of the death of his mother, and shortly after his father lost his position. He has given shelter by the parents of two of his pupils, and was fortunate enough to be befriended by Count Waldstein who acted as his patron and paid for him to travel and live in Vienna.
He took with him a small, but extremely interesting, portfolio of works, which made a great impression on the musical establishment, and with a growing income from admirers and royalties, he could devote more of his time to composition. His performance of his First Piano Concerto in 1795 brought him some acclaim, and the following year he was to give a concert before the King.
We can see the first phase of his career ending in 1800, and the second, which was happy and productive, lasting until 1815. It was during this period that he reached the peak of popularity, and though never the most charming of people, he embarked on several love affairs. This was the period where he composed from his third to eighth symphonies, his greatest string quartets, the violin concerto, the opera Fidelio and two more piano concertos.
During his final period, 1815-27, his health began to deteriorate, infections picked up in his sexual encounters affecting his liver, and even more crucially, he went deaf. From then on his performances as a pianist were often problematic as he banged at the keyboard trying to hear himself. Yet in this troubled time he was to compose his masterpiece, the Ninth Symphony. It was, however, to be pneumonia which started the long painful illness which led to his death aged 57.
By the standards of his predecessors his output was small. Just 138 works he thought worthy of publication, and a further 70 he left unnumbered.
Basically Beethoven approved for publication all of the works that have opus numbers; the first examination of the works that were never published came in the list under the WoO numbers; what were left appeared as Hess numbers. Much that carries WoO numbers was written in the first twenty-five years of Beethoven's life when he was very much a student composer. They were often in the form of dances composed to make a ready source of income. Even when he had achieved a degree of recognition as a composer, he found it necessary to earn money by writing groups of dances, the Seven Contredanses, for instance, date from 1802, by which time he had composed the first symphony and his first piano concerto. What is often surprising is his subsequent use of thematic music in these dances, in later large-scale works. In their enthusiasm to catalogue the complete works, a number that were subsequently thought of doubtful origin were included, the Six Ecossaisies being a case in point. That these were often no more than student works is very evident in the Fugue in C, a carefully worked academic exercise that had no other point. At the other extreme the disc contains the fine Fantasia from 1809, composed for Count Franz von Brunsvik. The short Concert Finale will also be instantly recognised, having been a reworking of the coda to the finale of the Third Piano Concerto.