The ones Beethoven left out

The ones Beethoven left out


norman lebrecht

September 19, 2020

Welcome to the 119th work in the Slipped Disc/Idagio Beethoven Edition

Andante favori, WoO 57 (1803-4)

Having intended this piece as a middle movement for the Waldstein sonata, Beethoven was upset when someone suggested it was too long, upsetting the balance of the work. After shouting and ranting for a while, Beethoven woke up next morning realising his friend was quite right. He junked the Andante from the sonata, only to issue it a couple of years later as a drawingroom showpiece. It was an instant hit, so much so that Beethoven appended ‘favori’ to the title to signify its popularity – or so the legend goes.

Knowing that Beethoven never took structural decisions lightly, there may have been more to the story – possibly a link to his failing pursuit of Josefine Brunsvik, one of his distant beloveds, or a faint similarity to a theme in a Haydn sonata. Whatever the reason, the piece is easy to play and hard to interpret in any manner that breathes individuality. I am drawn to a 1950 account by the Hungarian composer Ernö Dohnanyi, who flicks off the theme like a piece of fluff on his coat collar, intimating that he could write better himself. Arrogance is not always a detriment to a composer.

The Russian Sviatoslav Richter is, as you’d expect, all furrowed brows and hidden depths but with such plangent beauty in its dynamic shifts that you want to listen to the Andante three times at a go to see how he does it. The Japanese-German Alice Sara Ott has a pleasing light touch. Slowest is the noble Chilean Claudio Arrau who may fall asleep once or twice without anyone noticing over the course of 12 minutes. Ronald Brautigam clips through it on a fortepiano in under 9 minutes. Rudolf Buchbinder in less than 8. My secret favorite? The underrated French pianist Anne Queffelec who plays without having to score any points at all.

The Eyeglass duo WoO 32 (1796-7) 

The full title of this work is ‘Duet for Viola and Violoncello in E flat major with eyeglasses obbligato’. It’s some sort of insder joke between Beethoven, who played the viola and his friend Baron Nikolaus Zmeskall, a keen cellist and daytime diplomat at the Hungarian Chancellery. Zmeskall would sneak Beethoven writing materials from the Chancellery’s stationery cabinet. Maybe Beethoven wrote the cello part in very small writing to show he was using the paper efficiently. The work was unknown until 1912.

The account everyone must hear is by the German composer Paul Hindemith, one of the great viola virtuosos, and his brother Rudolf. Although they only recorded the first movement (there are two), you get a tremendous sense of domestic music making in which the better player reins himself in to accommodate a weaker brother, all the while egging him on to play better than he knows how. This recording is totally treasurable and you won’t find it anywhere accessible except on Idagio’s streaming service.

The modern virtuoso Tabea Zimmermann gives a gleaming performance with Maria Kliegel, marred only by unsubtle acoustics that proved steadily wearing on my ears. From a fairly small clutch of releases, I would pick the Salzburg violist Veronika Hagen who, with her cellist brother Clemens, gives the impression of having a spontaneous and enjoyable family conversation in business-class DG sound.


Three Pieces for Musical Clock WoO 33a

We do not know to this day what kind of mechanical clock Beethoven was writing for, whether a Flötenuhr or a Spielühr, both of which can be found in Viennese junk-shops and auction houses. The machine was a novelty item that told the time with a musical theme. Mozart had one of these and Beethoven must have had an eye on the same trinket market. In concert, it can be played on a variety of instruments; there are also transcriptions for church organ.

The flute-and-harp version sounds like a deathless masterpiece in the hands of Jean-Pierre Rampal and Marielle Nordmann. The violin-piano pairing by Anne-Sophie Mutter and Lambert Orkis is deadly serious. Simon Preston goes all spooky on the organ of Tobbridge School Chapel. I guess you’re going to have to hear all three.

Variations in A major on ‘Quant’ e più bello’ by Giovanni Paisiello for Piano WoO 69
Variations in G Major on ‘Nel cor più non mi sento’ by Giovanni Paisiello for Piano WoO 70

The Italian composer, whom Napoleon installed in Paris, would surely have vanished from posterity had Beethoven not taken a fancy to two of his arias in 1795. Neither theme lays any claim to profundity, the first having an almost childlike naivety. Alfred Brendel captures it well.

The second, in G major, proved so catchy that other composers followed Beethoven in exploiting it. Paganini wrote variations on the theme for violin, Sor and Giuliani for guitar and Bottesini for double-bass. Beethoven’s variations lend themselves to all sorts of moods, from romance to rage, while staying closely within the narrow lines of Paisiello’s original theme. Not exactly an earworm, but fairly adhesive. Two contrasting interpretations leap out for me – by the troubled British pianist John Ogdon and by the Russian Mikhail Pletnev. But my current favourite is Angela Hewitt’s 2020 release on the Hyperion label, not yet on Idagio.

Gesang der Mönche WoO 104
Abschiedsgesang, Part song WoO 102

And finally something completely different: Beethoven’s sentimental songs for male ensemble. The first is a monks’ chant for Schiller’s play William Tell, the second a sentimental farewell song to a pal who was leaving town.

And an exquisite little wedding song, WoO105, written in 1819 and sung here incomparably by Hermann Prey.


  • Anon says:

    Beethoven works for flute and piano

  • Douglas Cairns says:

    I shall never forget a live performance by Alfred Brendel in the Festival Hall where he played it as an encore after the Waldstein – obviously. The magical final page with its remote key changes was breathtaking. It’s a while ago now, but his recitals – often a regular one in June – were and are unforgettable.

  • Alexander T says:

    It’s Richter for me in the Andante Favori.
    Kempff has recorded the Nel cor piú non mi sento which plays beautifully.

  • David K. Nelson says:

    For whatever reason the “eyeglasses” duo is often reduced to one movement. It is the best music.

    The recording I turn to most often is William Primrose and Emanuel Feuermann, from RCA Victor 78s, a sort of addendum or appendix to the series of chamber music recordings Jascha Heifetz was making at the time (at some of which Primrose served as Arthur Rubinstein’s page turner!). Two great string players at the very top of their abilities. Feuermann’s utimely early death deprived us of many things, but the works actually on RCA Victor’s schedule: Beethoven string trios.

    Since our host seems to be engaged in a sort of “mopping up” operation in his Beethoven survey, I would suggest perhaps some attention to the torso of a violin concerto movement that several good violinists have recorded, some in speculative completions and others as written. It is one of the great “might have beens” in the violin literature, ranking with the concerto that was in rough sketch form on Richard Strauss’s desk when he died, and the abortive beginning of a concerto that became Debussy’s Nocturnes. Of course the Oboe Concerto that Beethoven refers to but is utterly lost to history is one of the major such “might have beens.”

    • Herbie G says:

      Ah David, good news for you. The Oboe Concerto is not utterly lost to history. A fragment of the slow movement survives and has been recorded in a completion, played by Bert Schneemann with what is termed the Radio Chamber Orchestra conducted by Jan Willem de Vriend on Channel Classics CCS SA 21404. It’s seven minutes long and rather lovely – a bit like the alluring Romaze Cantabile for piano and orchestra.
      The remainder of the CD is devoted to three oboe concertos by Ludwig Lebrun, a close contemporary of Mozart who died in 1790 aged 38. In fact the CD is volume 2 of two CDs devoted to Lebrun’s oboe concertos – the Beethoven is an ‘encore’. Lebrun’s concertos are most pleasant too. If you don’t wish to invest in this CD, you can find multiple postings of the Beethoven on YouTube.
      I agree that the fragmentary C major violin concerto, whose first movement has been completed and recorded, is worth hearing too – no masterpiece but well crafted and lyrical.

    • Marfisa says:

      I was intrigued enough to look for the Primrose-Feuermann version on Youtube. Here it is:

      The turning-over of the 78 in the middle takes me back to my youth.

  • Edgar Self says:

    Speaking of left out, the baseball playing position for klutzes, no discussion of the Eyeglass Duo is evercomplete without mention of the classic recording by William Primrose and Emanuel Feuermann beside which all others pale.

    Hindemith and brother Rudolf not only recorded it, but whir their recording session for a Beethoven trio needed a final four-minute side, prolific Hindemith retired to a nearbv room and soon emerged with a new piece for viola andcello that he and Rudolf proceeded to record as filler. He was a scratchy violist like Samuel Lifschey., before Lionel tertis and Bill Primrose showed how beautiful the viola cn be.

    The songs for male choir are new to me. If the Prisoners’ Chorus “O welche Lust” in “Fidelio” is a sample, I look forward to hearing them. Shubert’s many male choruses, some with guitar, piano, horn quartet, or a cappella include the exquisite “Nachthelle” for very high tenor solo and piano; “Nachtgesang im wald” with accompaniment of four French horns; and all of those with guitar.

    But, Norman, where are the 32 Veriations on an Original Theme in C minor for piano, famusly Beethoven’s only chaconne, recorded by Gould, Rachmaninoff, Horowitz, Constance Keene, Elly Ney, and Konstantin Lifschitz?

    Leonid Kogan on YouTube plays a stupendodus, uncut Paganini variations on Paisiello’s “Nel cor piu non mi sento” not to be missed or believed, and better than Vasa Prihoda’s celebrated abridged one.

  • Eyal Braun says:

    It is strange that Richter was such a great interpreter of Andante Favori – but never performed or recorded the Waldstein.

  • Edgar Self says:

    David, by what title is that Beethoven violin concerto torso movement known, please? I’m not sure I know it. Can an you sugest a recording??

    Another “might have been” is Chopin’s third concerto. He wrote his father about it, but only the””Allegro de Concert” exists,for piano solo, recorded by Arrau, although an orchestration by another hand ls jn a VoxBox of Romantic Piano Concertos.

    I’m glad you mention Primrose and Feuermann’s Eyeglass Duo. Max Raimi,violist-composer of the Chicago Symphony, has posted about playing it with his brother in edited form. Paul Silverthorne, then principal of the London Symphony, chatted with me about it the last time he was here with Colin Davis. Every violist says it’s tough; every cellist also. I think Samuel Mayes recorded it, Lorne XXXX (Munroe?) and no doubt others.

    Heifetz never forgave Feuermann for dying young at 39, and for eight years did not play with another cellist, hen he agreed to Piatigorsky, and recorded Mendelssohn, Ravel and Tchaikovsky trios with Grischa and Rubinstein. I saw Heifetz twice with his chamber players, including Primrose, Piatigorsky (Vivaldi double concerto), Lateiner and Pennario (Arensky trio), in L.A. and San Francisco. Grischa carried his cello out high over his head between thumb and forefinger over as if to tuck it under his chin and play like aviolin; he was tall enough to do it.

    • David K. Nelson says:

      Edgar thanks for posting the great recollection about Piatigorsky — my father heard him play in Madison WI in the 1930s and remembered the way Piatigorsky walked out carrying his cello as if if was a toy and what a big man he was. But what he remembered best, apart from the great playing, is that Piatigorsky smiled during the entire concert and my father could see that from quite a distance back (a reminder of a famous Heifetz story; when asked why he never smiled on stage he said it would have to be a distorted grin to be seen at all and even then would not be seen beyond the third row).

      The Beethoven Concerto first movement torso is sometimes called a Concerto (fragment) and that is what it is called on a Berlin Classics CD, 0093092BC featuring Karl Suske violinist and the Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig, Heinz Bongartz conducting (and conducting in the two Romances; the “real” Concerto fills out the disc and Kurt Masur conducts). The fragment in C Major WoO 5 fills 9 minutes but much of that is orchestra exposition — one hears quite a bit of Viotti in the violin part, but there is also a Viotti influence in making the audience sit in anticipation a while before the soloist makes his, or her, entrance. That wait adds to the “stage drama” of a concerto, something that Paganini obviously noticed as well. In this recording the music ends abruptly where Beethoven stopped composing (but see Willy Hess’s theory below), and before you get a real sense of what Beethoven intended to do with his themes. There is exposition but no development.

      Suske is a fine violin player, probably best known as a quartet violinist and recitalist but he has the unusual distinction of having been the principal viola of the Gewandhaus Orchestra when young and then years later, its leader/concertmaster! At various times he was also leader of the Berlin Statskapelle and the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra, and guest leader of the NHK Orchestra in Japan.

      The more common name (on record labels anyway) for the 289 measure fragment is Konzertsatz which is correct but implies completeness.

      Two other recordings in my collection are LPs and both are worth hearing, both are of a completed version of the movement. Gidon Kremer recorded it for Deutsche Grammophon 2531 193, completed and to some extent altered (more than half again as long) by the German musicologist Wilfried Fischer and a nifty cadenza by Takaya Urakawa. There is also the Romance in G and three concerted works by Schubert, the Rondo, Polonaise, and Konzertstuck, Schubert attempt at a concerto-like piece for violin and orchestra, which I have performed in recital with a pianist (who fortunately, as pianist for the Milwaukee Ballet, knows how to at sight play a full piano part from an orchestral score because that is all we were able to find for him).

      On a Nonesuch LP 79040 filled out with the Romances and rather appropriately, the Spohr “Gesangscene” Concerto (No. 8) is Sergiu Luca with David Zinman conducting the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. Luca is also playing the Fischer completion but with changes and a cadenza by himself.

      The Nonesuch liner notes by Derrick Henry provide some information about the fragment. It has been completed by others, as early as 1879 (Joseph Hellmesberger), August Wilhelmj of “Air on the G String” fame , and in more recent times Spanish violinist Joán Manen for Universal Edition in 1943, and Willy Hess in 1960 for Breitkopf & Hartel, in addition to Fischer, published by Bärenreiter. Maybe the most intriguing is Hess, who evidently believes that Beethoven’s part was not so much abandoned as mutilated and that perhaps the movement, maybe the entire concerto, was completed after all, and that what is left should be regarded as the composer’s final intent (it is evidently a very clean manuscript, a rarity for even the young Beethoven). Fischer by contrast regards it as a mere draft and thus felt free to make creative alterations.

      According to online Los Angeles Philharmonic program notes, Martin Chalifour like Luca performs his own version of the Fischer version.

      I have kind of lost track of where violin recordings have gone since my departure from Fanfare so I have no idea if others have tackled the Beethoven fragment, either as different completions or different recordings of the existing completions.

  • M McAlpine says:

    As the Andante Favori was originally conceived as the slow movement to a monumental piano sonata then Richter’s approach appears quite valid. Kempff recording of it should not be overlooked. The piece was a favourite of Beethoven’s who used to play it at soirees

  • esfir ross says:

    Anne Queffelec’s underhyped. What she plays-she’s the best in it.

  • esfir ross says:

    There come back of Paisiello. Artur Pizarro , Francesco Nicalosi recorded his piano concertos. Paisiello lived in Russia. His opera “Barber of Siville” was premiered in St. Petersburg

    • Edgar Self says:

      Eshir Ross — Artur Pizarro, an excellent pianist who has posted on this site, has a smashing CD of all of Scriabin’s mazurkas, including the brilliant E major that makes a very effective encore and intrigues audiences because it is so little known. It’s in Scriabin’s “lyrical” key of E major,, from an early group, either Op.3 or ,5 I think. Verb sap.

  • Edgar Self says:

    Douglas Cairns above mentions the magical coda of “Andante favori”, whose breathless two-lets anticiipate in schematic form those of the more dramatic coda of the Grosse Fuge.

    Odessa-born Benno Moiseiwitsch, one of Rachmaninoff’s favoritepianists, recorded “Andante favori” beautifully for HMV, as to be expected from such a champion of the Waldstein sonata with its impressionist touches andifficult octave glissandi, as did Walter Gieseking. I saw Moiseiwitsch play it and “Kreisleriana” in a Dallas recital.

  • Edgar Self says:

    David Nelson, your post is a gold mine of fascinating and helpful information, thank you very much. I’m glad your father’s memory ofOPiatigorsky … whose namemeans “Five Hills” in Russian … confirms mine. He, Horowitz, and Milstein formed an early trio and were photographed on bicycles in Italy in the 1920s. Milstein would encourage Piatigorsky by growling, “Come on, Grischa, a leetle more passion!”, hardly necessary.

    When I was in Bad Nauheim in 1953, Heinz Bongartz brought the Dresden Philharmonic from East Germany to play a Bruckner symphony and “Sheherazade” with violinist Denes Sigmondy, a strangeprogram, the first Bruckner I’d heard, and I can’t even remember which symphony it was, a rare East-West German exchange at that time,with separated Occupation audience seating. Pianists Stanislas Niedzielski and Elly Ney, and cellist Ludwig Hoelscher alsoplayed inBad Nauheim that season.
    I saw Ney again later in Heidelberg in a Rilke recitation-recital with her actress daughter Eleanora van Hoogstraten by the Dutch conductor and former violinist in her trio, succeeded by Max Strub and Florizel von Reuter whom I think you’ve mentioned. Despite his name, he was from Iowa.

    I had a 10-inch LP of Beethoven’s Romances by Theo Olaf, Helmut Krebbers, and Willem van Otterloo with a Dutch orchestra, and others by Menuhin and Furtwaengler with the Philharmonia.

  • Tarantino says:

    Nobody remembers Paisiello because of Beethoven’s (or Mozart’s – see K398) piano variations. In 1782 he wrote the first Barbiere di Siviglia, which is the clear model for Mozart’s Nozze di Figaro (intended as the second episode of the saga) and was of course the first term of comparison when Rossini wrote his own Barbiere in 1816. And his Nina pazza per amore is the quintessiential “comédie larmoyante” (Antonacci and Muti did a famous production at La Scala in the 1990s and Bartoli, Kaufmann and A. Fischer another one in Zurich in the 2000s). Barbiere and Nina have their own place in music history and this is a mere fact, not a matter of opinion. I can add that Il Socrate immaginario is one of the most subtle and inspired comic operas ever written, although it has not gained a comparable historical importance.

    • David K. Nelson says:

      Many decades ago the Catholic Archdiocese in Milwaukee maintained a “Catholic Symphony Orchestra” and, needing violas, they allowed this Episcopalian to be a member. In the year when Popes Paul VI and John Paul I died (a so-called “Year of Three Popes”), the conductor, Edward Zielinski, found a funeral symphony by Paisiello which was, evidently, written to be performed before Paisiello’s C Minor Requiem which in turn was written for the death of Pope Pius VI. I no longer can find the printed program but the sheet music had something like “Music for the death of the Pope.” It was a beautiful work, almost as moving and serious as Mozart’s {and yes the irony is not lost on me} Masonic Funeral Music that Bruno Walter recorded so memorably. Any thought that Paisiello was a lightweight was erased in my mind by that music. I wish our orchestra had played it better than it did. But the viola part was very well played if i do say so.

      Whether it is the same music, repurposed, as Paisiello’s Marche funèbre pour le Général Hoche which is also in C Minor I do not know. I do recall that the printed sheet music referred to the death of a Pope.

      • Tarantino says:

        The music you are talking of is without doubt the splendid Marche funèbre pour le Général Hoche (yes, it has some similarities with Mozart’s Masonic Funeral Music), which is printed as “Sinfonia” of the Requiem (or better “Missa Defunctorum) in the Curci edition.

  • Edgar Self says:

    David Nelson, right as rain, mentions Bruno Walter’s moving recording of Mozart’s “Masonic Funeral Music”. There are two Walter records of it, the longer one the better, with a Mozart commentary in which Walter cannot mention “die Maurische Trauermusik” without a tremor in his voice.

    Another work in Mozart’s severe style is the Fantasia and Fugue in F minor for mechanical clock, transcribed for strings and recorded by Arthur Winograd on a 10″ MGM LP. A version for full orchestra is not as successful. Viva Paisiello!