Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827)

Septet in E-flat major, Op. 20

Musicians of the Concertgebouworkest

  1. Adagio; Allegro con brio
  2. Adagio cantabile
  3. Tempo di menuetto
  4. Tema con variazioni
  5. Allegro molto e vivace
  6. Andante alla Marcia; Presto

Royal Concertgebouw Amsterdam, 9 November 2020

About the Music

The Septet for a mixed instrumental ensemble of strings and winds was one of Beethoven’s most successful early works—so popular that the composer, feeling that the piece overshadowed some of his weightier works, supposedly said to a friend, “that damned thing, I wish it were burned!”

Beethoven had moved to Vienna from his native Bonn just a few years earlier, to seek his fortune in the cultural capital of central Europe. Growing up in Bonn, Beethoven was busy composing, playing in an orchestra, and dealing with a difficult life at home. In Vienna he was able to hear the most sophisticated contemporary music and absorb its stylistic elements. The Septet has all the elegance and charm of Viennese music of the classical era, but also Beethoven’s ingenuity and emotional range, a foretaste of the Romantic era to come. One innovation was the way he deployed the mixed ensemble, designating the violin and clarinets as leaders of their respective “sections.”

The piece is in six movements, in the style of the classical serenade, with multiple movements of different characters. Several arrangements of the Septet were made by other composers, as well as by Beethoven himself. The piece also inspired later composers (such as Schubert) to write mixed instrumental pieces of their own.

As the young Beethoven left Bonn for Vienna, his friend Count Waldstein wrote to him words that would prove prophetic: “Dear Beethoven: You are going to Vienna in fulfillment of your long-frustrated wishes…With the help of assiduous labor you shall receive Mozart’s spirit from Haydn’s hands.” In the Septet we hear all of the important influences on young Beethoven, yet the passion and genius that was all his own.

David Serkin Ludwig

About the Musicians

For more information about the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, visit the Concertgebouworkest website.