Ludwig van Beethoven

String Quintet in E flat major (after the Octet, Op. 103), Op. 4

    Description by Robert Cummings

    Much controversy and confusion surround the composition of this quintet. While it carries a numerically early opus number, it is adapted from the Octet, Op. 103, which was probably written in the early-1790s and certainly no later than November, 1792 (the time when Beethoven departed Bonn for Vienna). This latter piece, one of the composer's very early works despite its high opus number, was published in 1837, a decade after Beethoven's death, at which time, for some reason, it was assigned the misleading numbering.

    The controversy hardly ends here, however. The Quintet has been viewed as a mere transcription or arrangement of the Octet, which it clearly is not. Some assert an entirely opposite view, that it is a thoroughly reworked and enlarged version of the earlier piece, virtually becoming a new composition altogether. The latter view is closer to the truth, though it would be hard to fully accept the notion that the quintet is a wholly new composition. Naturally, there is substantial reallocation of themes in the work, including pitch adjustments. And there is a score of other changes.

    But the structure of this piece is considerably different, as well: in the first movement, there are significant changes in the exposition and substantial ones in the development, reprise, and ending. The ensuing Andante employs new themes and involves significant changes in the ones retained. The Scherzo and finale are also substantially different: among other alterations, a second trio was added to the former and a new alternate theme was inserted in the latter.

    The movements of the quintet are marked: 1) Allegro con brio; 2) Andante; 3) Menuetto--Allegro; 4) Presto. These are, more or less, the same tempo indications given for the Octet, and while the Quintet retains much of the lightness and color from its source work, it is, in the end, a somewhat deeper composition. The instrumental writing is on a high level throughout and the structure and handling of the themes reflect a more mature compositional style.

    This work was first published in Vienna in 1796.


    1. Allegro con brio
    2. Andante
    3. Menuetto. Allegretto
    4. Finale. Presto

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2013 Brilliant Classics 94630
    2013 Ars Produktion ARS 38143
    2012 Warner Classics 694515
    2012 MDG / Zebralution
    2011 Brilliant Classics 94052
    2011 MDG MDG 30717152
    2010 Warner Classics
    2009 Meridian Records 84549
    2009 Hyperion 67693
    2008 Warner Classics 2564694713
    2008 Bella Musica / Zebralution
    2007 Cascade Records 2200
    2007 Brilliant Classics 93525
    2006 Dynamic 484/1-2
    2006 Brilliant 92857
    2002 Thorofon CTH 2440
    1999 Supraphon 34472
    1999 Meridian Records 84405
    Cascade Records 2284
    Brilliant 93525/44