Who’s coming marching in…

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you:

Ludwig

Van

Beethoven.

(pause)

Possibly my favourite composer. I thought long and hard about that ‘possibly’. It makes a big difference to that statement of course. I couldn’t quite bring myself to leave it out – I know what’s to come on my iPhone, after all. Suffice to say, as a pianist, there is nothing like getting deep into a fabulous Beethoven C Minor sonata and feeling the jangle of every single molecule.

So, where to start? I have a relatively limited amount of his vast repertoire on my iPhone, although it will keep us going for a couple of posts yet. But I thought it would be interesting to kick off with something a bit left-field. Something I totally love, though have not heard for a while (what a surprise).

I think that Beethoven’s Septet in E Flat Major, Op 20 for clarinet, horn, bassoon, violin, viola, cello and double bass is one of the best illustrations of Beethoven’s work. Yes, I know the symphonies are wonderful – we’ll look at those soon. And yes, I know the solo piano works are sublime – we’ll be having a dip into those too.

I have this recording. The quality of the playing is superb, but the recording feels a bit fuzzy, so I might look for a different one.

Meanwhile, what the septet gives us is an example of his ability to take a relatively simply melody line, and weave it into a work of depth, richness and beauty. All the Greats do this, of course. But, written in 1799, Beethoven pushes boundaries here with scoring (instrumental combinations) to create atmosphere, emotion and excitement within such a limited palette.

The first and last movements are particularly enjoyable. Each starts with a brief slow introduction and then they really let rip. I am reminded of New Orleans funeral marches which are deliberately slow and dirgey, then kick in with up-tempo celebratory music. Can Beethoven be described as the jazz-musician of his time? Well, for innovation he can, certainly. Why not have a little listen?

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