Infinitely richer in genuine beauties than many of his
later works, for example, the Grand Sonata Op.106, so wrote one crowd-pleasing critic in 1826, earning
Beethoven’s fury and posterity’s ridicule. Another critic referred to the
Septet as this especially popular,
excellent piece – well known as one of the most melodious cheerful and
comprehensible of Beethoven’s works. This was in 1816 after he had written
eight symphonies, eleven quartets and twenty eight of the piano sonatas, so the
composer’s anger at the public’s attention being focused on such an early and
simple work is understandable, but, of course, it is melodious and cheerful and
great fun for both audience and musicians. But to mention it in the same breath
as the Hammerklavier shows a breathtaking lack of taste.
The Septet belongs
to the classical Divertimento tradition with its six movements and its
exuberantly entertaining mood. It was premiered in Vienna at the same time as the First Symphony
on 2 April 1800. The horn and the first violin share the limelight in the
splendid slow introduction, before that irresistible first subject comes
whirling in. The triple role of the wind is discovered early on in the
movement, disporting as soloists, supporting the strings or ranging themselves
antiphonally as a group or in pairs. There is infinite pleasure to be found in
the interweaving of their various parts.
The Adagio cantabile
explores a vein of luxuriant lyricism typical of the young Beethoven with the
violin picking up on the clarinet's romantic opening solo. The central section
gives the horn a starring role, adding drama to the nocturnal romance. The
return of the opening is now richly decorated as clarinet and violin alternate
in arabesques of delight.
Most pianists will
recognise the minuet's old-fashioned theme, which Beethoven borrowed from his
early G major Sonata, later published as Op.49/2. The trio features cavorting
triplets for horn and clarinet. The variations fourth movement is based on a
charmingly simple tune from a Rhenish folksong. The variations begin with the
strings alone in double time followed by a dashing duet between the first
violin and the clarinet and the third variation finally gives the bassoon the
limelight along with the clarinet. The minor key variation is given to the
melancholy horn and everyone comes together for the adagio last variation and
coda. The bucolic Scherzo is led by a horn fanfare and the cellist gets her
moment of glory in the Trio.
The Finale begins
with a mock dramatic slow introduction before the main presto comes dashing in.
There is even a cadenza for the first violin before the finale reprise so
Beethoven probably had the famous Schuppanzigh in mind when he wrote the work.
This was the last chamber work involving wind instruments that Beethoven found
it necessary to write, thereafter he kept the wind instruments inside the