This delightful score was written in 1797 at the request of one Joseph Beer, a noted clarinetist of the time – who, however, considered it an insufficiently flashy vehicle for his talents and may never have performed it. The published edition (1798) was dedicated to Countess Maria von Thun, mother-in-law of Beethoven’s patron Prince Karl Lichnowsky.
Knowing of the limited market for works for this combination of instruments – and perhaps proof of Beer’s insufficient enthusiasm, Beethoven wrote an alternate version in which the violin takes the clarinet part.
William Kinderman, in his superb Beethoven biography, informs us that the early performance history of the trio is “bound up with Beethoven’s colorful competitive encounter with the flamboyant virtuoso pianist Daniel Steibelt in 1800... Steibelt responded to a performance of Beethoven’s trio [the composer participating] with polite condescension, offering in turn a showy improvisation on a theme drawn from Joseph Weigl’s opera L’Amor marinaro – the same tune chosen by Beethoven for the variations forming the finale of his trio. Beethoven retaliated by seizing the cello part of a quintet by Steibelt: after placing it upside down on a music stand, he poked out a theme with one finger from its opening bars. Offended, Steibelt walked out during Beethoven’s ensuing improvisation, and refused any further association with him.”
The Weigl tune was all the rage in Vienna at the time, to the point where it was hummed and whistled in the city’s streets; ergo the nickname for the trio of “Gassenhauer” (street tune).
- Herbert Glass