Youthful Beethoven

When he was twenty-two years old, Beethoven moved to Vienna to study with Franz Joseph Haydn. Only a year later, he parted ways with the elder composer when Haydn returned to England. It wasn’t a good parting, either, as Haydn discovered Beethoven might have lied about his financial situation, and about when he composed some of the works he was going over with Haydn in his lessons. Finding himself in one of the most musical cities in Europe (and with a new teacher, Johann Georg Albrechtsburger, who was recommended by Haydn), Beethoven quickly rose to the occasion of embracing the opportunity to establish his reputation as both a performer and composer.

Living in Vienna, and providing the foundation for much of its musical activity, were many wealthy aristocratic families all striving to prove their cultural superiority (some of them going bankrupt in the process) by hosting elaborate private concerts—often retaining sizable ensembles simply for these purposes. Beethoven enraptured members of this society, finding many patrons among them, including Prince Karl Lichnowsky, Count Rasumovsky, and Count Waldstein, each of whom received thanks in the form of beautiful pieces of music dedicated in their honor.

In this musical environment chamber music flourished, and the string quartet was the pinnacle formation of the genre. Maynard Solomon postulates that Beethoven’s chamber works during this period show evidence of a young composer striving to completely master the language of the era—Classical. With this depth of knowledge he was then able to tweak, move, reshape, reorder (and eventually dismantle) its syntax to push its boundaries out to meet the Romantic.

Written in 1795, but not published until 1810 (when it would share an opus number with the piano sonata op. 81a, no. 26, “Das Lebewohl”), the sextet combines a string quartet with two horns, joining a number of other chamber works Beethoven wrote for wind instruments in various combinations. It’s likely the work was composed to be performed at one of the private musical evenings proliferating the nightlife of the Viennese elite.  A refined, elegant sensibility, shaded only briefly by agitation, permeates the opening Allegro con brio, whilst the sublime beauty of the Adagio floats effortlessly like cloud through the waning light of the gloaming sky. A jovial rondo built around and bouncing motive completes the work.

(From the program notes by Kathryn J Allwine Bacasmot)

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