The template for Beethoven’s piano and wind Quintet in E flat major, Op 16, is clearly Mozart’s Quintet for the same combination (piano with oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn), K452. Beethoven’s work was probably composed in Berlin in 1796 and first heard at a concert in Vienna on 6 April 1797. But while this essentially 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, characteristically sets them in opposition, so that the outer movements at times resemble a chamber concerto for piano and wind. Beethoven follows Mozart’s plan of opening with a majestic slow introduction, though typically the rhetoric is more emphatic. Typical of the whole work, too, is the way the suave cantabile themes of the Allegro ma non troppo are first announced by the piano alone and then taken up by the wind, with the clarinet very much primus inter pares. 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 tense series of dialogues between the individual wind instruments against rippling keyboard figuration. Where Mozart rounds off his first movement with a tiny tailpiece, Beethoven balances his substantial development with a seventy-bar coda—though he surely borrowed from Mozart the idea of enlivening the closing stages with rollicking horn flourishes.
The Andante cantabile is a simple rondo design in which increasingly florid appearances of the main theme (introduced, as usual, by the piano alone) enfold two contrasting episodes. The first opens as a plaintive duet for oboe and bassoon, while the second, in the sombre and (for the wind) difficult key of B flat minor, features a noble horn solo, interrupted by a brief development of the main theme. 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. There are brief 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 coda, whose teasing play with the theme recalls not so much Mozart as Beethoven’s former teacher Haydn.
With an eye to increased sales, Beethoven also published the piano and wind quintet in an arrangement for piano and string trio.
from notes by Richard Wigmore © 2006
1.Radio Scottish Shorts: Five afternoon readings. BBC Radio 4 Production