During his time as a viola player in the Bonn orchestra from 1789, Beethoven came into contact with individual wind virtuosi, such as the horn player (later publisher) Nikolaus Simrock. Among Beethoven’s early teachers, his biographer Anton Schindler listed the singer and pianist Tobias Pfeiffer who also played the oboe, the only wind instrument to inspire Beethoven to embark upon a concerto, whose surviving sketches were probably preparatory material for a completed work. In the Rondino in E flat major, WoO25, composed in the early 1790s but not published until 1830, the oboe writing is confident and the clarinet is taken boldly into the chalumeau register. But the work (originally entitled Rondo by Beethoven) is defined by the duetting horns, a combination which was greatly admired by late-eighteenth-century audiences throughout Europe. As with so many of the wind instruments, the horn’s affinity with the human voice attracted special critical notice, one writer observing that a composer who knew how to use the instrument well could arouse remarkable sensations with it, including love’s complaints, repose, melancholy, horror and awe. The player had much to overcome in the way of embouchure and pitching, but also had at his command a wonderful array of melting, floating and dying-away effects. In the Rondino the radical use of horn mutes expands the range of expression yet further.
from notes by Colin Lawson © 2017