Eroica Symphony

Posted on January 9th, 2010 by


Beethoven-Scherzo from the Eroica Symphony(Arr. possibly by Franz Clement)-Rehearsal recording

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Peter Sheppard Skaerved, Dov Scheindlin, Neil Heyde, Aaron Shorr

St John’s Smith Square 

Recording courtesy Jonathan Haskell (Astounding Sounds)

Allegro con brio

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Marcia funebre

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Scherzo (Allegro Vivace)

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Finale(Allegro Molto)

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Notes on the arrangement July 19th 2014
On the piano Quartet version of the Eroica Symphony-a player’s perspective
Playing music written in the ‘pre-recording age’, I try to remember that, the predominant experience of orchestral and operatic music was in arrangement. Even with regular concert-going, people only had limited opportunities to hear any work. At the beginning of the 1800s, there was an enormous market of arrangements for home use, ranging from solo-violin transcriptions of melodies from operas, through works for chamber ensemble, ranging from ‘enlargements’ of piano works, re-instrumentations of other works, and reductions of orchestral pieces. An important ‘point of sale’ for much of this type of chamber music, was that it should function in a number of configurations. Duo transcriptions of opera arias were written so that they could be played by flutes or violins, and transcriptions involving piano usually functioned acceptably with all the ‘accompanying’ melody instruments missed out. It was in these versions that most people learnt the popular repertoire, playing or listening in the home or salon.
It would be three decades into the 1800s before ‘full scores’ of orchestral pieces became available for study; Robert Schumann, writing in his 1841 ‘Marriage Diary’ with his new wife, Clara, spoke of his wish for a library of these for the two of them to work at together, playing the orchestra scores at the piano. This, of course, was not a skill possessed by many amateurs!
Then there was the question of ownership, of profit. Joseph Haydn allowed promoters such as Johann Peter Salomon to release versions of his orchestral works , but composers from Beethoven onwards, were increasingly concerned to control, and profit from, the market for amateur musicians. With the collapse of patronage (for all but a small number of artists) at the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1814-15, this need for composers to control and profit from their market at all levels became more marked. By 1816, when Beethoven’s 7th Symphony first appeared in print, his orchestral works would be published simultaneously in seven formats: full-score, orchestral parts, nine-part wind ensemble (‘Harmonie’), String Quintet, Piano Trio, Piano Duo and Solo Piano.
Back in 1804, the year that the 3rd Symphony was premiered, this market was undeveloped. Beethoven himself did not yet command such respect as a composer to justify such an endeavour. One might argue, that by the time the 1816 Steiner & Co imprint appeared, the strategy which Beethoven (and his brother Carl)had put in place over a decade earlier, to gain control of all aspects of the publication of the music, finally paid off. Larger circumstances also contributed to the success of this strategy. The Congress of Vienna (1814-15) which brought the war to a close, also had the unintended side-effect of establishing Beethoven as ‘composer in residence’ to a new idea of Europe, a position which remains unchallenged.
The first published version of Eroica, a set of orchestral parts, did not appear until autumn 1806, two years after the premiere (Beethoven was frustrated at the delay in the publication of his work). An announcement of this first publication appeared in the Wiener Zeitung on the 19th October that year. The publisher, ‘Wien, Kunst- und Industrikontor’, was not the first choice for the composer and his circle, who had orchestrated a series of letters to major publishers in Vienna and Bonn (whilst Beethoven was still completing the work) talking up the work, negotiating good prices for their new product.
In October 1803, Beethoven’s student, composer/pianist Ferdinand Ries, later such an important ambassador for his work in London, wrote to Nikolaus Simrock in Bonn:
‘He wants to sell you the Symphony for 100 Gulden. In his own opinion it is the greatest work that he has yet written. Beethoven played it for me recently, and I believe that heaven and earth will tremble when it is performed.’ (Vienna; October 22, 1803)
Ries referred to a private performance which Beethoven gave for him, at Döblinger Hauptstraße 92, ‘on the left hand side of the street going down the hill towards Heiligenstadt.’ This was given on the Stein fortepiano which Beethoven had asked Ries to arrange to be sent to his lodgings. This is the first account that we have of any performance of ‘Eroica’, and it was given in a chamber setting. .
Beethoven’s brother, Carl, engaged his habitually fractious negotiating style with Breitkopf & Härtel (Vienna). On the 23rd November 1803, he wrote
‘At this time I cannot accept your recent offer of 500 florins. I am sorry about this, but you may also regret it in the future, because these symphonies are either the worst my brother has written or the best.’
Carl had the knack of communicating precisely why Beethoven’s difficult and new music was something that a publisher should take a risk on; ‘either the worst my brother has written or the best’ engages head-on with the criticism of Beethoven which had swirled around his work since the negative response to the publication of the Sonatas Op 12 for piano with violin in 1799. In the year that the symphony was finally published (1806), the Wiener Journal für Theater, Musik und Mode summed up these concerns:
‘Because of an obvious desire to be completely novel, B. is not infrequently incomprehensible, disconnected and obscure, and much of his work is extremely difficult without compensating with distinguished beauty.’
But Beethoven and his circle were strategically working to familiarise audiences, music lovers and amateurs, with Beethoven’s innovations, to make them quotidian, so that hearing the music in the concert hall would not be a shock. It was clear that arrangements played a vital role in this. Up till this point, arrangement had tended in three directions; pure keyboard arrangement (two or four hands), flute duo (the most popular form for appreciating, and learning, opera arias at the turn of the 1700-1800s) and string quintet. These models were clearly in Ludwig and Carl Beethoven’s’ minds, as they pressed ahead with their fruitless negotiations with Breitkopf & Härtel, from October 1803 to June 1805. An 1804 letter from the composer himself made this clear (alongside a blatant attempt to manipulate the publishers). He refers to the 3rd Symphony along with a number of other works. Beethoven noted:
‘Should you like to have one of these with an accompaniment, I would also agree to arrange this too – well if you would like to have these works, then you must be so kind as to let me know exactly how much time it will take you to publish them.’ (Vienna, August 26 1804)
The ‘accompaniment’ to which he is referring, is that of string instruments accompanying the piano, the model offered by all of his sonatas ‘for piano with violin accompaniment’.
Later in the same letter, Beethoven observed that public interest in his symphony would be such (‘I think that it will interest the musical public’) that, ‘I should like you to publish the symphony in score instead of engraving the parts.’
In February 1805, he had insisted that versions of the Symphony arranged for both piano and for string quintet should be published along with the orchestral version. It would be a decade before Beethoven could command such a ‘splash’ with a first edition.
For all his bluster, Beethoven saw the future, not long off, when miniature scores would be published, not for performance, but for appreciation. This was actually pioneered not in Vienna, but London. There, in 1809, ‘Cianchettini & Sperati’ published ‘A compleat collection of HAYDN, MOZART-and BEETHOVEN’s Symphonies, IN SCORE’, including Beethoven’s first three symphonies. There would be no equivalent in German- speaking Europe, until the publication of the score of Eroica in Bonn, by Simrock in 1822. This publisher had rejected Ries’s overtures concerning the new piece nineteen years earlier.
Although the orchestral set of parts for the Symphony was published by the ‘Kunst- und Industrikontor’ in October 1806, it was not reviewed in the press until February the following year. This set of parts was, disastrous, full of mistakes; both errors and omissions. These, unsurprisingly found their way into the London Cianchettini & Sperati ‘full score’ in 1809, then back into the 1822 Bonn Simrock score.
However in April 1807, the Wiener Zeitung also announced the first arrangement of Eroica for chamber ensemble, but not for string quintet, but piano quartet, a ‘Grand Quartetto… arrangé d’après la Sinfonie héroique’.
This was not the first of Beethoven’s orchestral works to appear in a version for piano with strings. In 1805, the same house had published the composer’s own arrangement of the 2nd Symphony, for piano trio. Prior to that, a number of chamber and piano works, had appeared in other chamber configurations, most notably, the reworking of the Serenade Op 8 (String Trio) as a Notturno for viola and piano. In 1803 Carl von Beethoven had written to Breitkopf & Härtel, noting that one: “…Herr [Franz Xavier] Kleinheinz, under my brother’s direction, has arranged several of his piano works for quartet, and some instrumental works for piano, with accompanying instruments.” Beethoven himself had also reconfigured the Piano Sonata Op 14 for string quartet in 1801-2.
The first notable transcriptions of orchestral works for chamber ensemble using piano were those pioneered by the composer/violinist/impresario Johan Peter Salomon, born, like Beethoven, in Bonn. In 1795, he Salomon published transcriptions of the Haydn ‘London’ symphonies (which he had commissioned), initially for piano with accompanying violin and cello, that is for ’piano trio’, although the use of that descriptor was some way in the future. The function of the strings in these versions approximated to the technique Haydn and Beethoven later used, making folksong transcriptions for the Scottish publisher, George Thomson. These parts could be removed: all the indispensable material is in the piano. By 1798, Salomon was using different ensemble of string quartet, flute and accompanying piano. In the 1820’s the virtuoso pianist/composer Johann Nepomuk Hummel arranged eight Beethoven symphonies (as well as numerous other works) for four instruments: violin, cello, flute and piano. These versions, whilst very accomplished, are primarily written to showcase the impressive keyboard writing, although the melody instrument parts are not dispensable.
This transcription of Eroica is completely different from all the models cited above It is a piece of piano chamber music like nothing written before, anticipating, to my ears, the new worlds of the Schumann and Franck Quintets, still decades away. In none of the earlier cases mentioned, had such gigantic work, both in sound and scale, been attempted so dramatically reduced. In 1829 in the Allegemeiner Musikalischer Anzeiger (Vienna) acknowledged the risk that had been taken, as being like:
“The copy of a giant tableau; a colossal statue on a reduced scale; Caesar’s portrait shrunk by the pantograph; an antique bust of Carraran marble made over as a plaster cast.” I will return to this article later, discussing whether or not the re-working was successful.
There is no evidence as to who carried out the transcription. It certainly bears none of the fingerprints of Franz Xaver Kleinheinz. His work is invariably respectful, and careful, but takes no risks. It does not resemble any of Beethoven’s work to date either. His own 1805 reworking of the 2nd Symphony, reveals chamber qualities at the heart of the original work, particularly his debt to Haydn’s piano trios.
This version of Eroica, made less than two years after the transcription of the 2nd Symphony does nothing of the sort. No attempt is made to ‘fit’ the piece into a smaller frame, even to a smaller room! From the very first moments playing, it challenges musicians to take on the massive, monumental heft of the original, and reproduce them, with just four players. The effect is impressive, but not only achieved through power, (whilst it is an important element). It is necessary to look back some of the recent heritage of this combination, the piano quartet, to see where its success might be ‘grounded’.
I am convinced, that the musician responsible for this arrangement, was well-acquainted with both Mozart (K.478 & K.493) and Beethoven’s (Op 16) published piano quartets. In addition, the dimorphic manifestation of Beethoven’s Quartet/Quintet Op16 can be seen as part of this knot of influences. Beethoven wrote this work as a both quintet with wind and as a conventional piano quartet with three strings (He had already written three remarkable works for this combination, as a 14-year old). The piano part in each case is the same, but the melody instruments find different ways around similar material. Mozart’s1784 Quintet K452 (Piano and wind) also appeared as a piano quartet with strings, revealing a similar process; it is now generally accepted that Mozart himself had a hand in this version. Mozart’s two original ‘piano quartets’, in G minor and E flat Major, were written in 1785. Looking these four works together, it is clear that they share a number of elements, notably ‘quasi-orchestral’ weight, and virtuosic demands. Mozart’s commissioning publisher, Hoffmeister, released him from the contract for these works, realising that this music was beyond his target amateur market. Notably all, but one of these widely-played pieces are in E flat Major. This was surely factor when the decision was made to transcribe ‘Eroica’ for this combination. The result is remarkable.
The first review of this piano quartet transcription version (1808) talked about the challenge of reproducing the striking wind-strings contrast of the original symphony (see below). The mystery arranger was emboldened to take some risks to ensure this was the case. This points to a musician closely involved in the early performances.
The first edition of this arrangement was brought out by the same publishing house as the original material, within weeks. This raises the possibility that, if it was not made by Beethoven himself, then it had to be made by a musician close to him, and to the material. There is one question which is beyond doubt. The transcriber was in the presence of the score. This, as I noted earlier, had not been published, and the mistakes in the first set of parts suggests that the publishers did not have it either. There are no such mistakes in the parts of this arrangement, which also included no score (the piano part, as was normal until well into the century, is just that, a part). This is the only set of this parts published at the time which does not require ‘fixing’ in order to make it work. I infer from that that whoever made it, either had the ¬original score (or a very good copy), knew the piece intimately, or actually was the composer, who for some reason, chose to remain anonymous. This can only be speculation.
The boldness of this version is nowhere better revealed than in the ‘trio’ section of the Scherzo. Beethoven was proud with his use of three horns as an attention-grabbing stunt; this ‘trio’ is, famously, their concertante moment. The arranger took the opportunity to give this to the three string players, in a wonderful bit of close-harmony, every bit as ‘ear-grabbing’ an effect as the horns. Such originality of approach the work. By way of example, the blistering orchestral unison which begins the last movement, might have been expected to be given to the whole group. Instead, the viola steps to the fore-, and blazes away with the piano. This sets up the possibility for the attention to remain at the middle of the ensemble. The viola is centre stage for the first two variations.
The success of this arrangement was immediately noticed in the press In February 1808 the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung reported:
‘This well-known work, extensively evaluated earlier in these pages, is arranged here with diligence. Even in this form it has as much and as good an effect as is possible for pieces that depend so much on the unique effect of all the instruments, particularly that of the wind instruments in opposition to the strings. All four players must be rather accomplished in order to perform this quartet properly.
We should pay careful attention to this last line. An early complaint about Beethoven’s published piano chamber music was, as I noted earlier, that it was too complex for the amateurs who were its primary market. All four parts this arrangement demand concerto-like virtuosity (the viola part goes higher than any of the chamber music which Beethoven had written up to this point). This is the inevitable result of the freewheeling redistribution of wind parts; for instance the violin often plays what was originally virtuosic flute writing, at pitch. Much of the effectiveness of the work is the result of juggling the instrumental hierarchy; instruments leap over each other as they chase to keep up with the missing orchestra. This results in a sonic profile that pulses with energy. This not, by any stretch of the imagination, music for a gentle evening’s reading by amateurs. The Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung review suggested that Beethoven’s music was becoming regarded as something to be reached for. The very difficult which just a few years earlier might have occasioned complaint, occasioned the critic’s observation that ‘accomplishment’ was necessary to perform the work ‘properly’. The awe-inspiring challenge of Beethoven’s music, for listener and player, had, in a few short years, come to be seen as its very virtue.
In 1809, the composer Carl Maria Von Weber, later a great admirer of Beethoven’s music, (he conducted a production of Fidelio in 1814) wrote Fragment of a Musical Journey which will perhaps take place. This satirical and highly critical view of Eroica summed up the initial resistance to the physical brand of virtuosity which Beethoven was demanding of his initially reluctant musicians and instruments:
‘All of a sudden the property man entered the hall, and all the instruments separated in fear, for they knew the rough hand that packed them up and took them to the rehearsals. ‘Wait!’ he shouted, ‘Are you rebelling again? Just wait, Pretty soon there are going to set out the Eroica Symphony by Beethoven, and after that I’d like to see which one of you can move a limb or key!’
‘Oh, no! Not that!’ begged the instruments.
In 1829, the 1807 arrangement was reprinted in Vienna by Tobias Haslinger, occasioning the review partially quoted earlier. Here is the rest:
‘One is readily satisfied, however, with a half-accurate silhouette when one cannot have the original. Then fantasy begins its sweet play. And all the world certainly knows the beneficial effects of the powers of imagination and recollection.’
It had taken two decades, but Beethoven had changed the musical landscape. This arrangement, whoever made it, marks an important stage in that success.