We tend to think of Beethoven as a very serious, determined, God-like figure: Johann Anton Stieler’s famous portrait of the composer furiously at work on the Missa solemnis; grey mane tousled; a stern, focused expression on his face, encapsulates this widely-held view of the man.
Yet there’s another side to him: one that’s impish, playful, and earthy. You hear this personality in some otherwise long-hair music: the “Alla danza tedesca” movement of the op. 130 string quartet, for instance. And there are whole pieces that revel in this mood, like the early Septet and the later Eighth Symphony.
A lesser-known score in this vein is the Serenade for flute, violin, and viola, written in 1801. It features Beethoven in his most relaxed, charming, and stylistically Classical – a remarkable combination, considering that the piece was composed around the same time the crisis with his hearing reached its climax.
You’d never guess that from this music. The Serenade opens with a lively, tripping “Entrata” that’s filled with fanfare-like figures played by (mainly) the flute and viola. An elegant “Minuet” follows; note the trio, with its florid writing for strings. After this comes a good-natured, scampering “Allegro molto” in D minor and then a broadly lyrical set of variations. A short, driving scherzo movement sets up the big finale, which opens with a stately introduction. But the mood quickly brightens once the “Allegro vivace disinvolto” kicks off with its rustic “Scotch snaps” and buoyant spirits.
Credit – Jonathan Blumhofer