Ludwig van Beethoven

Trio for piano, clarinet (or violin) & cello in E flat major (arr. of septet, Op. 20), Op. 38

    Description by Robert Cummings

    As the headnote indicates, this work is an arrangement of the Op. 20 Septet (1799-1800), which was scored for clarinet, horn, bassoon, violin, viola, cello, and bass. This trio arrangement was published in 1805, but the date of its composition is not certain. However, since the Septet was published in 1802 and became instantly popular, it is likely that Beethoven fashioned the trio from it in about 1803. This was not the only transcription of the Septet, either: Franz Anton Hoffmeister, a composer and publisher, made an arrangement for string quintet with Beethoven's permission.

    The Septet is generally regarded as the greatest of Beethoven's early chamber works. It is unusual in its six movement design, which included a Scherzo placed fifth. Beethoven made this trio arrangement for Dr. Johann Schmidt, his new physician and also a good violinist. His daughter was a talented pianist, and the two, with a cellist friend, often played this music in early nineteenth-century Vienna, probably at private gatherings and at concerts in their home. Beethoven gave exclusive rights to the score to Dr. Schmidt for one year.

    The second movement features a lovely lyrical theme, played by the violin (or clarinet, as in the original). This movement works especially well in this trio reworking. However, there are some problems in Beethoven's reduction here. For example, the cello must stand in for the horn in several passages, and is not always an effective substitute, as the trio of the third movement minuet demonstrates. And while Beethoven's writing for the piano is generally well-crafted (the first movement coda may actually sound better in this version, with the sixteenth-note piano accompaniment trumping the less compelling corresponding string playing), his decision to allocate the violin cadenza in the finale to the keyboard was ill-conceived.

    Still, the trio is a success on the whole. The Adagio introduction of the first movement and its brisk main Allegro music come across convincingly. The lyricism of the second movement is also splendidly incarnated here, and the Scherzo works well, too. While this arrangement is not preferable to the original Septet version, it does have its strengths, and will appeal especially to those favoring Beethoven's chamber music with piano.


    1. Adagio - Allegro con brio
    2. Adagio cantabile
    3. Tempo di minuetto - Trio
    4. Tema con variazioni
    5. Scherzo. Allegro molto e vivace - Trio
    6. Andante con moto, Alla marcia - Presto

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2018 Alpha 405
    2018 Hyperion CDA 68263
    2017 Audite AUD 97695
    2016 Decca
    2015 Omnibus Classics TCLOM 5007
    2014 Somm SOMMCD 0135
    2014 Rewind REW 516
    2013 Brilliant Classics 94630
    2013 Brilliant Classics 94327
    2011 Brilliant Classics 94052
    2010 Naxos 8570943
    2008 Brilliant Classics 93684
    2008 Fuga Libera 535
    2008 Phoenix Edition 122
    2007 Brilliant Classics 93525
    2007 Cascade Records 2200
    2007 Tudor Records 7076
    2006 Praga 350011
    2005 Praga 350011
    2000 Praga 250144
    1999 Summit Records 186
    1998 Naxos 8 553389
    1998 Fleur de Son 57931
    1997 Deutsche Grammophon 453751
    1995 Arte Nova 74321 30491-2
    1995 Gallo 761
    1991 Koch International Classics 7015
    Canal Grande 9105
    Cascade Records 2247
    Unicorn-Kanchana 9118
    Philips 468411
    Brilliant 93525/21
    Musical Actes 210004