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.