Happy Birthday Beethoven!!!

Beethoven was born in the middle of December, 250 years ago, in Bonn, Germany. No record of his birthdate exists, but he was baptised on December 17th. Happy birthday, Beethoven!

While most concerts got cancelled this year, many musicians and ensembles planned to honor Beethoven. Many people know Beethoven's "Ode to Joy," the closing movement of his ninth symphony, and the "Moonlight" sonata for piano. In addition to his 9 symphonies, Beethoven also wrote concerti, chamber music, an opera, songs, solo piano music, sonatas for string, and wind instruments, and two masses. One of his chamber works that included the clarinet is the Trio in Bb, opus 11 "Gassenhauer."

At the time Beethoven composed this three-movement work (1797), he lived in Vienna, Austria and had completed study with Joseph Haydn. He first wrote the trio for clarinet, cello, and piano, later adopting the clarinet part for violinists. The clarinetist Joseph Beer commissioned this work; however, no one knows if he ever performed it. Notes have recorded that Beer did not find the clarinet part to be virtuosic enough to showcase his musical ability. Like much of Haydn's music, Beethoven states themes clearly and follows the listener's expectations of musical form.

He wrote two lyrical themes for the exposition of the first movement, varied in the development section, and brought back for the recapitulation. The listener will hear each instrument play a distinct role. The clarinet is the soloist and plays melody, the cello often plays a bass line, sometimes joining the clarinet, and the piano fills out the harmony and texture.

The cello begins the second movement as a soloist, before passing the melody to the other instruments. Following the three-part ABA form, the music darkens in the B section and tension increases with dramatic descending passages in the cello and piano parts, before the return of the melody. Beethoven emphasizes this return by having the clarinet and cello play the melody in unison.

The final movement is a theme and variations. Beethoven borrowed this theme from a popular opera of the time, Joseph Weigl’s opera L’Amor marinaro. Beethoven’s use of this tune led the trio to become known as the Gassenhauer (street) trio. In the ten variations, Beethoven explores a wide variety of styles and emotions. The variations feature every member of the trio, but the virtuosic and improvisatory style of the piano part is particularly exciting.

Listen to the work in its original form played by Camerata Pacifica.

Listen to my adaptation of the first movement for alto saxophone, baritone saxophone, and piano.