Ludwig van Beethoven

Variations for cello & piano in G major on Handel's "See, the Conqu'ring Hero comes," WoO 45

    Description by John Palmer

    By the end of his life, Beethoven had composed nearly 70 sets of variations. Most of the early ones were based on themes by other composers and were not given opus numbers, which Beethoven reserved for what he felt to be his more substantial, important works.

    From May-July 1796, Beethoven was in Berlin as part of a concert tour. While there, he composed, or at least began, a number of important works, including the Cello Sonatas, Op. 5, and the Variations for cello and piano in G major on "See the conqu'ring hero comes" from Handel's oratorio, Judas Maccabaeus, WoO 45. The variations are dedicated to Princess Christiane von Lichnowsky, wife of Prince Karl von Lichnowsky, one of Beethoven's most important patrons in Vienna, in whose home Beethoven lived between 1793 and 1795. The Variations, WoO 45, were published in 1797 by Artaria in Vienna. As Handel's oratorios were not performed in Vienna at this time, it is likely that the suggestion of the theme came from Baron Gottfried van Swieten (1733-1803), a champion of the works of both Bach and Handel and one of Beethoven's early patrons.

    The variations of WoO 45 are in the decorative, high-Classical style and maintain the harmonic movement of the theme. We find none of the probing of tonal relationships as in the Variations in F major, Op. 34, and none of the multiplicity of material to be varied as in the Variations in E flat, Op. 35. What we do find is a virtuosity and control unparalleled in Beethoven's earlier works. Also, the variations are notable in that Beethoven had few examples on which to model his compositions for the unusual combination of cello and piano.

    Handel's theme is rounded binary structure with a central section that emphasizes the relative minor, E minor, a harmony Beethoven stresses from the first variation. The cello makes its first appearance in the second variation, exaggerating the leaps in the theme over a repeated-note accompaniment in the piano. Leaps are the salient feature of the cello part in Variation No. 3; the busy piano part fills any and all melodic gaps created by the cello. Variation No. 4, the first of the two minor variations, returns to a more recognizable form of the theme while probing the pathetic possibilities of the minor mode. In the fifth and sixth variations, Beethoven divides material between the two instruments, perhaps preparing for the very active cello part of Variation No. 7. The shape of the theme all but disappears in No. 8, the second minor variation, in which phrase lengths are delineated by rising and falling scales in the piano. After a calm, contrasting ninth variation that reduces the theme to its bare bones, an agitated tenth variation erupts that features a soaring, cello part. The 11th variation is technically difficult and highly ornamental, and is followed by a meter change to 3/8, which drastically alters the rhythmic aspects of the theme.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Thema. Allegretto
    2. Variation I
    3. Variation II
    4. Variation III
    5. Variation IV
    6. Variation V
    7. Variation VI
    8. Variation VII
    9. Variation VIII
    10. Variation IX
    11. Variation X. Allegro
    12. Variation XI. Adagio
    13. Variation XII. Allegro

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2018 Audite AUD 23440
    2018 Nimbus Alliance NI 6362
    2017 Praga / Praga Digitals PRD 250372
    2017 NFM ACD 225
    2016 Centaur Records CRC 3497
    2016 Onyx Classics ONYX 4178
    2016 Evidence / Evidence Classics EVCD 015
    2016 Erato 0190295951139
    2015 Pentatone / PentaTone Classics PTC 5186475
    2015 Naïve V 5387
    2015 Deutsche Grammophon 4794647
    2015 Sony Classics 513074
    2014 Hyperion CDA 679812
    2014 Centaur Records CRC 3322232425
    2014 Harmonia Mundi HMC 90218384
    2014 Fontenay Classics FCI 005
    2013 Brilliant Classics 94624
    2013 Brilliant Classics 94630
    2013 MSR Classics MS 1486
    2013 Warner Classics
    2013 MDG
    2012 Deutsche Grammophon 001649002
    2012 Accent ACC 24237
    2012 Regis Records RRC 2092
    2011 Paladino Music PMR0011
    2011 Brilliant Classics 94052
    2011 Documents / Membran 233075
    2011 Fazer / Finlandia
    2011 Divox CDX25212/3
    2011 Accord
    2011 Divox CDX 552572
    2011 VDA Classics
    2011 ZYX / ZYX Music CLA 10118
    2011 Haenssler 93272
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon
    2010 Hyperion 67755
    2010 Profil - Edition Günter Hänssler 10004
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon
    2010 Bridge 9329
    2010 Telos 51
    2010 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 509996886272
    2009 Sony Classical 752307
    2009 Dorian 90910
    2009 Denon Records
    2009 Apex 4692237
    2009 Brilliant Classics 93895
    2009 Telarc Distribution
    2009 Telarc Distribution 80740
    2008 Blue Griffin Recording 171
    2008 Saphir Productions 1022
    2008 Camerata Records 28127
    2008 Regent 807/08
    2008 X5 Music Group 14402
    2007 Musicaphon 56870
    2007 Brilliant Classics 93525
    2007 Cascade Records 2200
    2007 EMI Classics 87739
    2007 EMI Classics 3777672
    2007 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099950416
    2006 Eroica Distribution 3227
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    2006 Deutsche Grammophon 477 6266GOM2
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    2006 Gramola GRAM 98801/2
    2006 Artek 25-2
    2005 Berlin Classics 0013492
    2005 EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 7243586242
    2005 Naïve V4995
    2005 Channel Classics 22605
    2005 Danacord 333
    2005 Philips 000395802
    2005 Accord 4767786
    2005 Nimbus 5741
    2005 Decca 4756327
    2004 Naxos 8555787
    2004 ECM 000338902
    2004 EtCetera Records 1253
    2004 Urania 917
    2003 Apex 7495952
    2003 EMI Classics
    2002 Live Classics 201
    2001 EMI Music Distribution 569422
    2001 EMI Music Distribution 74447
    2001 Aura Classics 0125
    2000 Bayer Records 100210
    1999 Angel Records 73332
    1999 Harmonia Mundi HMX290 8030/2
    1999 Claves 509815
    1998 Sony Music Distribution 63360
    1997 Albany Music Distribution 268/269
    1997 Deutsche Grammophon 453748
    1997 Berlin Classics 0091332
    1997 Channel Classics 6494
    1997 Harmonia Mundi 1901180
    1997 Point Classics 267008
    1997 Channel Classics 06
    1996 Berlin Classics 0011672
    1996 Hyperion 22004
    1996 Deutsche Grammophon 453 013-2GTA2
    1996 EBS 6030
    1996 Berlin Classics 0011742
    1995 Arabesque 6656
    1994 Philips 442 565-2PM2
    1994 Albany Music Distribution 116
    1994 Naxos 550479
    1994 Sony Music Distribution 58991
    1994 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 7243568132
    1993 Deutsche Grammophon 437514
    1992 Hyperion 66281
    1992 Bayer Records BR 200032
    1988 EMI Music Distribution 63015
    1986 CBS Records 42121
    Brilliant 93525/29
    Americus Records 19961001
    Avie 2103
    Cascade Records 2246
    Accord 204302
    Amado Classics 03039
    Brioso Recordings 100
    Pilz 160263
    Euromusica 003
    RCA 68372
    Potenza Music 1005
    Anthony Elliott
    Poltan Twin Productio 119