Five lesser-known works by the Romantic genius
Beethoven is the great composer of revolutionary symphonies, heroic piano concertos and dramatic string quartets. After pondering why opera stumped the Romantic genius - he only composed one, Fidelio, and even that proved tortuous - in our July issue, we have discovered five other works that see Beethoven in a less familiar guise.
1. Organ Fugue, WoO 31
The only solo piece Beethoven wrote for organ, this is also one of the earliest works he composed. The piece ends with some interest, demonstrating a busy recapitulation of the main theme over a sustained pedal note, but otherwise reveals little that hints towards his revolutionary mature style. It is thought that the piece was written as part of the examination requirements for an organ position at the court of Bonn.
2. Sonata for flute and piano in B flat major, Anh. 4
Beethoven wrote his flute sonata when he was in his early twenties but it wasn’t published until 1906, when a selection of the composer's works were released posthumously. He replaces the conventionally slow second movement with a lively Polonaise, while a playful theme and variations play out between the flute and piano in the final movement.
3. Three duets for clarinet and bassoon, WoO 27
This set of three charming duets emerged in Paris towards the beginning of the 19th century and are a delightful addition to a relatively limited repertoire for clarinet and bassoon duo. While there is some debate among musicologists over the origins of the pieces, it is widely accepted that Beethoven composed them some time in the 1790s, while his compositional style was still developing.
4. Andante favore in F major, WoO 57
This beautiful piece for solo piano was published in 1805. Originally intended to be the second movement of the ‘Waldstein’ piano sonata, Beethoven omitted it on the advice of friends who felt it was too long. The work became a much-loved stand-alone piece amongst audiences of the time, which led Beethoven to give it the title Andante favore (favoured andante).
5. Sextet for two horns and string quartet in E flat major, Op. 81b
Written around 1795, the progress of Beethoven’s compositional development is evident in the way he treats the two horns in this piece. The composer acknowledges the typical use of the horn for fanfares and hunting calls, but also shows the lyrical qualities the instrument has to offer in the duet between both horns in the second movement, which has a very minimal string accompaniment.