7 is the magic number.  Beethoven’s Septet in Eb Major

7 is the magic number. Beethoven’s Septet in Eb Major

by Samuel Cottell

When Beethoven composed his Septet in Eb in 1800 had no idea this chamber work would have lasting popularity. In fact, it was so popular that it became more loved and revered than his major works. At the same time that Beethoven penned the Septet he has just completed his Symphony No.1 however, it was the Septet that would capture the Viennese public’s attention.

At this time Beethoven was only beginning to make his mark as a composer and was largely known as a piano virtuoso, a reputation he had made for himself as early as 1800. During that same year another pianist, Steibelt, challenged Beethoven to a piano ‘duel’. Needless to say, Beethoven wiped the floor with him. Steibelt, being so embarrassed by the loss, vowed to never return to Vienna for as long as Beethoven was there; and this was true. Beethoven spent the remainder of his life in Vienna and Steibelt never set foot there again.

Following his career as a pianist, Beethoven was soon to make his mark as a composer. Beethoven was breaking new ground in his approach to melody, harmony and phrasing and was pushing the envelope of the creative mind, making great works of art that have stood the test of time. His Septet in Eb is an interesting case amongst his output and it probably gets just as many performances as his major works today. When Beethoven composed this work it was before the first signs of his impending deafness and his outlook of a bright future was optimistic and clear.

Omega Ensemble is pleased to present Beethoven’s Septet in their second concert for 2017, Romantic Vision. Set alongside Rachaminoff’s Trio Elegie in G Minor and Cimarosa’s Concerto for Clarinet and Strings, this is not one to miss. Before you come to the concert, here are seven facts about Beethoven’s lyrical, classical, yet revolutionary Septet:

1.  The more instruments the merrier a musical conversation, and being a Septet, there are 7 Instruments. 7 seems to be a lucky number and Beethoven’s choice of Clarinet, Bassoon, French Horn, Violin, Viola, Cello and Double Bass are a beautiful combination. They create a rich, intriguing sound world; the ultimate musical conversation. It was also the first time this combination of instruments had been used. That’s typical of Beethoven, always looking forward with one hand still recognising the traditions of the greats.

2. The Septet was premiered at a concert in 1824 alongside Beethoven’s 1st Symphony and 3rd Piano Concerto, and there are hints of ‘symphonic’ writing in this smaller work. The way the instruments, musical ideas and themes unfold are representative of ‘larger thinking’ and you can hear a much bigger sound world from the Septet’

3. Beethoven’s Septet was one of the inspirations for Schubert’s acclaimed Octet. When the clarinettist Ferdinand Troyer asked Schubert for a composition he requested one that was ‘similar in style to that of Beethoven’s Septet. This would be the largest scale chamber work of Schubert’s entire output. You can catch Omega performing the Octet in July as part of their ‘Schubert’s Trout’ concert .

4. The Septet draws its influences from Mozart’s Divertimento for String Trio K.563- they are in the same key and in the style of a Serenade, which were popular in the mid to late 1700s as forms of entertainment for dinner parties. Beethoven expands on these forms and adds a violin cadenza in the finale, showcasing the virtuosic nature of the instrument.

5. The Septet was so popular that Beethoven himself was asked to arrange it for Trio Clarinet (or Violin), Cello and Piano, and this was published in 1805. Kathy Henkel writes: “The numerous reincarnations of the Septet bear eloquent witness to the work’s hit-parade status among amateur musicians of the time. Soon after its premiere, it appeared in transcriptions for solo piano, two guitars, piano four-hands, and piano quartet.” Arrangements and adaptations of the Septet continued long after Beethoven’s time. Famed conductor Arturo Toscanini rearranged the string section of the Septet so that it could be played by the full string section of the orchestra, but he did not change the rest of the scoring. He recorded the Septet for RCA Victor with the NBC Symphony Orchestra on November 26, 1951, in Carnegie Hall.

6. In its original form, the Septet made its public debut, along with the First Symphony, at the Royal Imperial Court Theatre on April 2, 1800 at Beethoven’s first Viennese Akademie, a benefit concert for the composer himself. The piece was dedicated to Archduke Rudolph’s sister-in-law, Empress Maria Theresia, second wife of Franz II – an astute political move for a young composer eager to gain a solid foothold among the elite of the empire’s musical capital. Maria Therese had already passed away before that time and her oldest son was impressed by the dedication and soon became Beethoven’s patron, and the tradition of arts patronage continues to day (Find out more about Omega’s own Patron's Program).

Empress Theresa Maria (whom the Septet is dedicated too), was known for abolishing torture in 1776

Empress Theresa Maria (whom the Septet is dedicated too), was known for abolishing torture in 1776

7. These facts all make Beethoven’s Septet special and exciting­ ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­– a true musical feast. To celebrate this magnificent work and the launch of Omega Ensemble's Virtuoso series at City Recital Hall  - Omega and City Recital Hall are giving you a chance to purchase any ticket for just $70 for any of the Virtuoso Series concerts. This offer is valid for only 7 days, so get in quick and explore the series, book your tickets then sit back to enjoy these wonderful, world-class musicians in action.

There’s a lot to love about Beethoven’s Septet, and like the Viennese public, you’ll be all the enriched and delighted after this concert. Take home a bit of history with you as you hear this iconic work performed by some of Sydney’s most iconic and insightful musicians.