Beethoven’s least successful hit

From the Lebrecht Album of the Week:

Beethoven’s first self-promoted concert in Vienna in April 1800 contained works by Mozart and Haydn alongside his own first symphony, piano concerto and a septet, opus 20, that was the hit of the night. On the notion that nothing succeeds like success, Beethoven sold his publisher an additional version of the septet, scaled down to a trio for clarinet (or violin), cello and piano and registered as his opus 38. Contrary to expectations, it never matched the popularity of the septet, then or since. I cannot recall a really gripping recording….

Read on here.

And here.

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  • Beethoven’s greatest money-maker but trashiest composition is ‘Wellington’s Victory, or the Battle of Vitoria’. Just goes to show that rubbish sells (as if we didn’t know). Which is how opera companies, symphony orchestras and music festivals manage to balance the books.

  • Beethoven’s Septet is a fantastic work. The Trio Version, Op. 38–for either Violin or Clarinet, with Cello and Piano, misses for a number of reasons. For one thing, the Violin cadenza in the last movement (a highlight of the work) is moved from the Violin to the Piano, which is not as captivating. Most of the other deficiencies of the Trio version are related to distribution of parts between the Piano and the Violin/Clarinet.

  • Beethoven’s septet Op 20 is for the same instruments as Hummel’s earlier and very popular one, probably its model. One movement shares musical material with a movement of the second piano sonata. Some good tunes, especially one with Viennese Schwung for the violin.

    • Really? What’s the catalogue number of the Hummel? I can only find the ones for flute, oboe, horn, viola, cello, bass, piano (op.74) and for flute, clarinet, trumpet, violin, cello, contrabass, piano (op.114). The Beethoven is for violin, viola, cello, bass, clarinet, bassoon and horn.

  • Scottish Musician — I was thinking of Hummel’s Septet in C, Op. 114. You are right, of course. I’d have sworn there was a trumpet in Beethoven’s, and no piano in Hummel’s , but, alas … the vagaries of errant memory. Hummel also appears to have written his later, or vice-versa, or the reverse of the opposite. Many thanks for your correction.

    Hummel claimed to have been the only student of both Beethoven and Mozart, in whose household he lived for a time. Perhaps it went to his head. Or mine.

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