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Piano Quartet in E flat major, Op 16
Beethoven's arrangement of his Quintet in E flat major, Op 16, for piano, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn; completed in summer 1796; first performed at Ignaz Jahn's restaurant in Vienna on 6 April 1797; both versions published in 1801

'Beethoven: Piano Quartet & String Quintet' (CDA67745)
Beethoven: Piano Quartet & String Quintet
Buy by post £10.50 CDA67745 
Movement 1: Grave – Allegro ma non troppo
Movement 2: Andante cantabile
Movement 3: Rondo: Allegro ma non troppo

Piano Quartet in E flat major, Op 16
During his early years of unalloyed success in Vienna, Beethoven was understandably cautious about tackling the elevated genres of the string quartet and the symphony, in which Haydn, then still at the height of his powers, particularly excelled. But he was confident enough to risk head-on comparison with the recently dead Mozart in works such as the first two piano concertos, the E flat String Trio Op 3 (modelled on Mozart’s Trio K563) and a clutch of chamber works involving wind instruments.

The example of Mozart’s masterly Quintet for piano and wind, K452, clearly lies behind Beethoven’s own Quintet for the same combination (piano, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn), probably completed during his triumphant visit to Berlin in the summer of 1796 (though it may have been begun as early as 1794) and premiered at a concert at Ignaz Jahn’s restaurant in Vienna on 6 April 1797. To maximize sales, Beethoven quickly arranged it, with minimal reworking, as a piano quartet (the keyboard part is unaltered, though the strings sometimes play where the wind were silent). Both versions were published together as Op 16 in 1801.

While this genial, urbane music owes a debt to Mozart in general and his piano and wind quintet in particular, Beethoven’s voice and methods remain his own. Mozart had subtly interwoven the piano and the wind quartet. Beethoven, working on a more expansive scale, sets them in opposition, so that the outer movements at times resemble a chamber concerto for piano. Beethoven follows Mozart’s plan of opening with a majestic slow introduction, though, typically, his rhetoric is more emphatic. One difference between the quintet version and the piano quartet arrangement is that whereas the leisurely cantabile themes of the Allegro ma non troppo were originally presented as keyboard solos, now the strings join in discreetly midway through. The development immediately transforms the exposition’s final cadence in a mock-stormy C minor, with explosive scales from the piano and cussed offbeat accents, before a series of tense string dialogues against rippling keyboard figuration. Where Mozart rounds off his first movement with a tiny tailpiece, Beethoven, characteristically, balances his substantial development with a seventy-bar coda.

The Andante cantabile is a simple rondo design in which increasingly florid appearances of the main theme enfold two contrasting episodes in G minor and B flat minor. As in the first movement, a melody that had originally been a piano solo now acquires string accompaniment halfway through. The first episode opens as a plangent duet for violin and cello, their lines more elaborately ornamented than in the wind original, while in similar fashion the B flat minor episode recasts what was originally a noble horn solo as a more florid melody for viola.

For his finale Beethoven follows the examples of Mozart (in the horn concertos and several piano concertos) and his own B flat Piano Concerto (No 2) and writes a bouncy ‘hunting’ rondo in 6/8 time, doubtless prompted by the presence of the horn in the original ensemble. There are hints of Beethovenian truculence in the central episode, where the rondo theme suddenly erupts in E flat minor. But otherwise the mood is one of unbridled exuberance, right down to the teasing coda, where a tiny snatch of the main theme in the keyboard repeatedly provokes overlapping echoes in the violin—a charming detail that Beethoven added for the piano quartet version.

from notes by Richard Wigmore © 2009

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Details for CDA67745 track 7
Grave – Allegro ma non troppo
Recording date
27 June 2008
Recording venue
St Paul's Church, Deptford, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Andrew Keener
Recording engineer
Simon Eadon
Hyperion usage
  1. Beethoven: Piano Quartet & String Quintet (CDA67745)
    Disc 1 Track 7
    Release date: June 2009
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