About this Piece
Full title: Concerto movement in C major, WoO 5 (completed by Wilfried Fischer, cadenza by Takaya Urakawa)
Length: 18 minutes
Orchestration: flute, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, strings, and solo violin
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performances
Contrary to our general perception of the Bonn of Beethoven's day as a backwater, the composer's birthplace was in fact a lively intellectual and cultural center. Bonn was the capital of Cologne - somewhat confusingly for a modern reader - the latter then being not only a city but an electoral district, governed by the enlightened Maximilian Franz, the artistically-involved son of the Austrian Archduchess (later de facto empress) Maria Theresa, whose 16 children also included the Austrian Emperor Joseph II; Leopold II, King of Bohemia and Hungary; and Marie Antoinette, the Queen of France who famously lost her head in 1793.
Among the musicians employed at Maximilian Franz's Bonn court were Ludwig's earliest teachers, including his own father, the tenor and pianist Johann van Beethoven. He had lofty ambitions for his gifted pianist son, dreaming of following in the footsteps of that celebrated father-son team of the previous generation, The Mozarts. To wit:
"Today, March 26, 1778, in the musical Academy Hall… the Electoral Court tenor J V Beethoven, will have the honor to present two of his students, Mlle. Averdone, contralto, and his own little son, aged six. In a program of arias, clavier concertos, and trios… " [Ludwig was, in fact, eight.]
Withal, the "Second Mozart" sobriquet didn't stick. Young Beethoven was admired but not idolized, even during the course of his early travels as a boy wonder. Perhaps his chief backers, the composer and teacher Christian Gottlob Neefe and Papa Johann, weren't as clever in their promotional schemes as Papa Leopold (Mozart), who trotted out his pampered little boy like a show poodle. Perhaps Ludwig wasn't small enough. Perhaps he was a sullen child, unlike the chipper, eager-to-please baby Mozart. Or are we projecting onto the boy Beethoven the stern visage and rough manner of the grown man?
Beethoven arrived in Vienna for good in 1792 (he had visited five years earlier, the occasion of his meeting with Mozart), already sporting a solid reputation as a pianist-composer, based on his performances in Germany and a sizable list of compositions, the Bonn-period "WoO" - Werke ohne Opuszahl, Works without Opus Number - of which the present fragment for violin and orchestra was listed as No. 5 when the WoO catalog was organized after the Second World War.
The early WoO include songs, piano pieces, a pair of piano concertos, chamber works (among them three impressive piano quartets, the grandiose Cantata on the Death of Emperor Joseph II, a ballet score (Ritterballet), and his marvelous, overheated choral piece, "Es ist vollbracht" - which surely deserves an occasional hearing, if for no other reason than having Fidelio, Beethoven's only opera, and still many years away, written all over it.
This concerto fragment, which simply ends suspended in air after 289 measures, was most likely abandoned by its composer, either due to the press of other work or simply his not knowing where to go next. No sketches exist for additional material, so it seemed reasonable to go to the soloist for these performances, Martin Chalifour, for information on how he came to regard the score as performance-worthy.
"I didn't know of the score until I came across it in a collection I inherited. I've always been a collector of out-of-print editions, so I dove into the collection, expecting something exciting. And there was not only the fragment itself, but a completion by the Spanish violinist Joán Manen [1883-1971], which I didn't much care for, in which there's too much changing of the original material. And there's an even earlier completion, very dull, by Joseph Hellmesberger [a celebrated Viennese string quartet leader of the second half of the 19th century], who didn't even provide a cadenza. And then, since I'm a big Gidon Kremer fan, and anything he does is of interest to me, I listened to the version he recorded for Deutsche Grammophon, completed and edited by the German musicologist Wilfried Fischer, with a marvelous cadenza by the Japanese violinist Takaya Urakawa.
"Fischer and Urakawa roughly doubled the length of the original, although much of it repeats Beethoven's own material to create a formal sonata-movement structure. In the cadenza Urakawa reminds you of the later Beethoven Violin Concerto [in D major, Op. 61], which is suggested in the fragment anyway - mostly the rugged energy and virtuosity of the finale of the mature concerto. I'm personally adding a few measures from the recapitulation to make it a more rounded piece, and at the moment I'm experimenting with bringing in the orchestra a bit earlier in the cadenza, to sort of mimic what Beethoven does in Op. 61."
Asked whether a thoroughgoing performing knowledge of Op. 61 helps in playing the Allegro, Chalifour responded: "Definitely, particularly for the articulation of the fast passages, not playing them with a heavy hand, which Beethoven's not always very violinistic ideas can tempt you to do. His music, including the string parts of the symphonies, doesn't always lie comfortably for the fingers."
-- Herbert Glass is the English-language annotator for the Salzburg Festival and a contributor to music periodicals in the U.S. and Europe.