Ludwig van Beethoven

Septet for strings & woodwinds in E flat major, Op. 20

    Description by James Reel

    One of the last works Beethoven wrote before he became aware of his encroaching deafness, the Septet is a lighthearted work in the spirit of the eighteenth century serenade. Beethoven had it premiered in the same concert in which he unveiled his Symphony No. 1. The Septet was an immediate success, and the composer later expressed a certain resentment toward this work, remarking that it's popularity eclipsed more deserving compositions. Nevertheless, the Septet is an interesting work, filled with youthful energy and containing engaging and attractive solos for the instrumentalists. The first of the work's six movements is a slow and deliberate introduction prefacing a fresh and energetic Allegro con brio. The first subject is carried initially by the violin, then by the clarinet. The second theme brings several other instruments into a dialogue, but is essentially ignored in the development section; after an elaboration of a fragmented version of the first theme, the development section closes in the right key but without a true recapitulation. In the Adagio cantabile, Beethoven shifts to the key of A flat, introducing a tranquil, swaying melody, which the clarinet and violin each play. The other instruments are generally limited to colorful support, except when the horn takes a tentative melodic lead. The Minuet borrows its main theme from Beethoven's Piano Sonata in G major, Op. 49/2 (an earlier work despite its higher opus number). It's a spry tune over a tick-tock accompaniment. As is common in Beethoven's works of this period, the minuet contains two trios, the second pulling its insistent rhythm from the opening material. The fourth movement, an Andante, is a set of variations on the Rhenish folk song "Ach Schiffer, lieber Schiffer." It's yet another lighthearted, bouncy tune, though a curiously unmemorable one; it merely provides Beethoven a suitably-shaped frame on which to hang his own busy melodic excursions and showcase the various instruments of the ensemble. The Scherzo, marked Allegro molto e vivace, is a vigorous piece with a hint of the hunt about it, thanks to the little figure played by the horn at the beginning. The contrasting trio is essentially a tuneful cello solo accompanied by the other strings and bassoon. In the final movement, a slow introduction (Andante con moto alla marcia) sounds almost ominous, with anticipatory material for the horn and violin. Soon this mood is dispelled by an exuberant Presto, in which the forward motion is occasionally interrupted by calm interludes. The movement also features fanfares, prominent solo material, and even a full cadenza for the violin.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Adagio - Allegro con brio
    2. Adagio cantabile
    3. Tempo di Menuetto
    4. Tema Andante con Variazioni
    5. Scherzo. Allegro molto e vivace
    6. Andante con moto alla Marcia - Presto

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2018 Analekta AN 28788
    2016 Sterling CDS 1080
    2016 Decca / Philips 4788977
    2016 Alpha 474
    2014 Eigenart 10480
    2014 Centaur Records CRC 3328
    2013 Brilliant Classics 94630
    2013 ATMA Classique ACD 23004
    2011 Toccata Classics 0108
    2011 Brilliant Classics 94052
    2011 MDG 30105942
    2011 Tudor Records 7146
    2010 Decca
    2010 Nimbus / Nimbus Alliance 6112
    2010 Denon Records
    2009 Denon Records
    2009 Opus KURA 2078
    2008 Parlophone
    2008 Virgin Classics 22126
    2008 Bella Musica / Zebralution
    2008 Virgin Classics 562352
    2008 X5 Music Group 14402
    2007 Cascade Records 2200
    2007 Brilliant Classics 93525
    2007 Apex
    2007 CPO 777011
    2007 EMI Classics 3777672
    2007 EMI Classics 87739
    2006 EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 0946350864
    2006 Apex 389080
    2006 Arte Nova 640150
    2006 Novalis 150727
    2006 Harmonia Mundi 905264
    2006 Brilliant Classics 92294
    2005 Warner Classics
    2005 Hyperion 55189
    2005 Parlophone
    2004 ASV 4002
    2003 Testament 1261
    2002 Thorofon CTH 2440
    2002 Preiser Records 90494
    2002 Harmonia Mundi HMA195 1518
    2000 Angel Records 56817
    2000 Hyperion 20
    2000 Live Classics 104
    1999 CPO CPO999 658-2
    1999 NY Philomusica Records 30004
    1999 Chandos CHAN9718
    1999 ATMA Classique 2129
    1999 Denon Records 17035
    1998 Virgin 61409
    1997 EMI Music Distribution 69755
    1997 Decca / Deutsche Grammophon
    1997 Deutsche Grammophon 453 772-2GCB6
    1997 Arte Nova 74321 43302-2
    1997 Deutsche Grammophon 453811
    1996 Delos 3177
    1996 CPO 999162
    1996 Nimbus 5461
    1995 Naxos 8 553090
    1995 Virgin 61233
    1995 Intercord Klassische Diskothek 885911
    1995 Harmonia Mundi HMC90 1518
    1995 Capriccio Records 10473
    1994 Berlin Classics BC1105-2
    1993 Hyperion 66513
    1990 Philips 426091
    Bluebell 5807
    Ades 20408
    Berlin Classics 0020142
    Preiser Records 90242
    Cascade Records 2261
    Amado Classics 03028
    Deutsche Grammophon 439852
    Brilliant 93525/19
    Vivace 648
    Hungaroton 31519
    Virgin 59597
    Novalis 150021
    Denon Records 75373
    Teldec 46467
    Philips 434036
    MusicMasters 67123
    Brilliant Classics 92294/6
    RCA / RCA Victor 60270
    Apex
    Philips 434030