This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.
I’ve featured Beethoven before but today I thought I’d highlight some rather unusual music from him. These are interesting - well interesting to me. You may be surprised by several of them.
Okay, maybe you won’t, but I certainly was. I was looking through my Beethoven box – that’s the complete work of the composer, there’s still some I haven’t played yet – and I came across these. I thought they could make a different column and wondered what else lurks within.
So I went searching and came up with the music for the column. There are pieces I knew already but others were a revelation. I found too many so there could be another column.
I’ll start with a very odd piece of music indeed. It begins quietly and is like that for about a minute so there’s nothing wrong with your computer (okay, I suppose there could be something wrong with it but don’t blame the music).
There are also lots of strange sound effects. These were on the CD but it isn’t someone like Spike Jones taking the mickey; this is for real, folks. It’s called Wellington's Victory or The Battle of Victoria. I guess they liked alternate titles back then.
It’s performed by Neville Mariner conducting the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields. There may also be something in there you’ll recognize. It sounds to me like the soundtrack for a very odd war movie.
If you thought Tchaikovsky first thought of using cannons in music, Ludwig beat him by about sixty years. In fact, you’d better duck your head, there’s so much fire power in this one.
Now for something completely different, something a little more conventional and a lot shorter, only 42 seconds long. Short is something else generally not associated with Ludwig.
Indeed, the title is longer than the piece itself. It’s Variations on “See the Conqu'ring Hero Comes” From Handel's Judas Maccabeus - Variation 1.
That was so short we might as well have another one. This is Variation 2.
There are twelve in all but I’ll quit while I’m ahead.
George Thomson was a publisher and collector of folk songs in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. He got composers of the day to set these to music and paid them really well.
Ludwig was certainly up for this - after all, money was involved. He set dozens of Welsh, English, Scottish and Irish songs to his music. Later, he did the same with a number of European songs as well but George wasn’t involved in that enterprise.
Here is one of the Irish songs, The Elfin Fairies, sung by Barbara Schedel and Kerstin Wagner.
The flute isn’t an instrument you normally think of when Ludwig’s name is mentioned. This is a piece I considered for my column on flutes but decided it should appear here.
This has the great Jean-Pierre Rampal fluting away with Christian Larde and Alain Marion playing along with him. It’s the trio in G Major for 3 flutes and is subtitled Spurious” for some reason.
Ludwig wrote a whole bunch of dances but they’re all really short. I guess they didn’t have much stamina back then or a really short attention span. Here are a couple of them. This first is taken from a set of 12 Contredanses for Small Orchestra. It’s No. 1.
The next is from a different set of dances, this time from a group of 11, mainly for woodwind instruments. I really like this one, it’s also No. 1. It’s a Dance for 7 String and Wind Instruments.
Something a little more conventional. Here is the first movement from the String Quartet in B flat major Op. 18 No. 6. It’s a really sunny sort of work - however, not simple. It can stand repeated playing without losing its charm as I found while preparing this.
Back to the woodwinds. Ludwig wrote quite a number of works for various forms of wind ensembles, including three for duos of clarinet and bassoon. This is the first movement of the Duo clarinet and bassoon, No 1 in C major.
Another really nice, and short, work for woodwinds, and a couple of French horns as well. The March for 2 Clarinets, 2 Horns & 2 Bassoons in B Flat Major, WoO29.
Ludwig’s piano sonatas are about the best things written for a solo piano. These are major works and aren’t really suited to the column today. Instead, here are some piano pieces that are nowhere near as long or as intricate as those others.
These are generally considered dances and I can see folks tripping the light fantastic to them. There are several CDs of them but I’ve chosen three from a series called Deutsche Tänze. The first of these is Dance No. 3.
Next is Dance No. 7.
Finally, Dance No. 10.