Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
String Quintets, transcribed by Carl Khym (c.1770-?)
Born in Bonn in 1770, Ludwig van Beethoven was alreadywinning some distinction there, when, in 1787, he was first sent to Vienna, tostudy with Mozart. The illness of his mother forced an early return from thisventure and her subsequent death left him with responsibility for his youngerbrothers, in view of the domestic and professional failures of his father,formerly a singer in the musical establishment of Beethoven's then patron, theArchbishop of Cologne. In 1792 Beethoven was sent once more to Vienna, now tostudy with Haydn, whom he had met in Bonn.
Beethoven's early career in Vienna was helped veryconsiderably by the circumstances of his move there. The Archbishop was a sonof the Empress Maria Theresa and there were introductions to leading members ofsociety in the imperial capital. Here Beethoven was able to establish an earlyposition for himself as a pianist of remarkable ability, coupled with a cleargenius in the necessarily related arts of improvisation and composition. Theonset of deafness at the turn of the century seemed an irony of Fate. It ledBeethoven gradually away from a career as a virtuoso performer and into an areaof composition where he was able to make remarkable changes and extensions ofexisting practice. Deafness tended to accentuate his eccentricities andparanoia, which became extreme as time went on. At the same time it allowed himto develop his gifts for counterpoint. He continued to revolutionise formsinherited from his predecessors, notably Haydn and Mozart, expanding thesealmost to bursting-point, and introducing innovation after innovation as hegrew older. He died in 1827, his death the occasion of public mourning inVienna.
The three works here included are arrangements of two triosby Beethoven and of his Horn Sonata. These were made by the Bohemian virtuosooboist Carl Khym, whose name sometimes appears as Chym. He was born about 1770and was thus a more or less exact contemporary of Beethoven and seems to havebeen in the service of the Emperor. Little is known of his life, but he left anumber of chamber music compositions and competent and effective arrangementsof works by other composers, with the string quintet version of Beethoven'sClarinet Trio, Op. 11, appearing in Vienna and Pest in 1810/1811, and of theHorn Sonata, published in Bonn by Simrock in 1817. The arrangement of the PianoTrio, Op. 1, No. 2, seems to date from 1815. Nothing is known of Khym after1819.
In 1795 Beethoven published a set of three Piano Trios,dedicated to Prince Carl Lichnowsky, in whose house they were first performed,in the presence of Haydn, who had reservations about the possible reception ofthe third, an implied criticism to which the composer took exception. Thesecond of the group, the Piano Trio in G major, Op. 1, No. 2, makes aconvincing string quintet. The first movement starts with a slow introduction,with the more decorative melodic elements now allotted to the violin, whichopens the Allegro vivace with a lively first subject leading to a reasonabledivision of labour between the other instruments of the quintet. The firstviolin introduces the second subject in the sonata-form movement, with itsrepeated exposition, development and recapitulation. The characteristicallysustained piano melody of the original work in the slow movement is aptlytransferred to strings, its opening theme repeated an octave higher, afterwhich the first violin leads on to a secondary theme, both themes soon toreturn, with a brief excursion into the tonic minor key before the closingsection. The Scherzo is introduced by the cello, joined at once by the otherinstruments, and framing a B minor Trio. The final Presto opens with therapidly repeated notes of the violin, as in the original, with somemodification of the original piano imitation of the theme, in a sonata-formmovement, its exposition again repeated, before the central development andrecapitulation.
Beethoven's 1798 Trio in B flat major, Op. 11, popularlyknown as the Gassenhauer Trio (Popular Song Trio), takes its nickname from theuse Beethoven made, in the last movement, of a theme taken from Joseph Weigl'scomic opera L'amor marinaro
(Love among the Sailors), a terzetto for three basses, Priach'io l'impegno. Although often performed in a contemporary arrangement forviolin, cello and piano, the original work was scored for a clarinet ratherthan a violin and owed its instrumentation to the composer's association withthe clarinettist Josef Bahr, who suggested the theme for the last movementvariations. Bahr collaborated with Beethoven in performances of his Quintet,Op. 16, and took part in the first performances of the Septet, Op. 20 and theSextet, Op. 71. He was employed in the musical establishment of CountJohann Joseph Liechtenstein. The first performance of the Trio, according toFerdinand Ries, took place in the house of Count Fries in the presence of therival virtuoso pianist Daniel Steibelt. Since the piano part gave relativelylittle scope for display, Steibelt managed to outshine Beethoven in performinghis own quintet. A week later Steibelt provoked Beethoven by playing abrilliant set of variations on the Weigl melody of Beethoven's last movement,after which the latter took his revenge by a virtuoso improvisation on a motiffrom Steibelt's quintet, seizing a cello part, which he placed upside down onthe music stand. The sonata-form first movement of the Trio has great charm andassured craftsmanship in its subtle shifts of key. The following Adagiocantabile bears a distinct melodic resemblance to the Minuet of the PianoSonata, Op. 49, No. 2. According to Czerny, Beethoven contemplated replacingthe last movement and issuing the variations as a separate work. Althoughgenerally light-hearted, the nine variations include a melancholy excursioninto the minor in the fourth variation and again in the dramatic seventhversion of the theme, with contrapuntal elements in the ninth, before thesyncopations of the final section.
The Bohemian horn player Jan Vaclav Stich, knownprofessionally by the Italian form of his name, Giovanni Punto, boasted aconsiderable reputation as a virtuoso. In Paris in 1778 Mozart had written asolo part for him in his Sinfonia Concertante and he had appeared to acclaim inthe major capitals of Europe. It was his visit to Vienna in 1800 that elicitedfrom Beethoven his Horn Sonata in F major, Op. 17, committed to paper, itseems, the day before the first performance by Punto and the composer at aconcert on 18th April, with Beethoven playing partly from memory and partlyfrom the inspiration of the moment. The work was a success and was immediatelyplayed again in early May in Pest, where it seemed that Punto quarrelled withBeethoven, who refused to appear with him at a following provincial engagement.Both appeared again in Vienna on 30th January 1801, however, to play the workat a concert in aid of those wounded at the disastrous battle of Hohenlinden.Khym's transcription makes effective use of the material, redistributed largelyaccording to the range of the original instruments, the horn part significantlyallotted to the cello in the opening. The material is developed in a centralsection, before returning, with the necessary adjustments, in recapitulation.There is a brief slow introduction to the final F major Rondo. Here the celloanswers the violin in the principal theme, which provides a framework forintervening episodes.