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They spoke about it

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Ludwig van Beethoven’s Septet in E-flat Major, Op. 20, and Franz Hasenöhrl’s Till Eulenspiegel einmal anders!, an arrangement of Richard Strauss’s famous tone poem, are marvellous demonstrations of how the timbres of three important groups of orchestral instruments – strings, woodwinds, and brass – blend together. After the Septet, with its range of timbres and finely sculpted texture, the listener is astonished at Hasenöhrl’s ingenuity in conjuring an entire orchestra out of only fi ve instruments. Together, these two works form a lighthearted program imbued with a touch of humour.

The Septet in E-flat major, Opus 20, by Ludwig van Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827) composed the Septet in the latter half of 1799. He had left Bonn in 1792 to study with Joseph Haydn in Vienna, and though his studies with “Papa Haydn” had ended in 1794, he remained in the city and was still there when he wrote the Septet. Several Viennese aristocrats had come to recognize Beethoven’s talent and served as patrons. As his student Carl Czerny explained, “It has repeatedly been said in foreign lands that Beethoven was not respected in Vienna and was suppressed. The truth is that already as a youth he received all manner of support from our high aristocracy and enjoyed as much care and respect as ever fell to the lot of the young artist”.

Made up of six movements – which often gives it a divertimento or a serenade-like character – the Septet, Op. 20, features a melodic creativity and a brightness that stems partly from the fact that all the movements are in major keys; indeed, there are few minor passages in the entire piece. Listeners familiar with Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas will no doubt recognize the theme of the third movement, “Tempo di minuetto”, which he borrowed from the last movement of the Piano Sonata in G Major, Op. 49, No. 2, composed in 1795.

The Septet was successful right from its premiere on April 2, 1800 at a concert that also introduced his Symphony No. 1, Op. 21. While the audience was bewildered by the symphony, the Septet for violin, viola, clarinet, horn, bassoon, cello, and double bass, “written with taste and imagination” according to Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung, was an immediate hit. It subsequently enjoyed great popularity, borne out by the numerous adaptations published for various groups of instruments, including one for piano, violin or clarinet, and cello by Beethoven himself (Trio in E-flat Major, Op. 38).

Till Eulenspiegel einmal anders! by Richard Strauss

Arr. for violin, clarinet, horn, bassoon and double bass by Franz Hasenöhrl

In 1894, shortly after his marriage to the eccentric soprano Pauline de Ahna, Richard Strauss (1864 – 1949) began composing the tone poem Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche (Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks), Op. 28. The subject is at once historical and legendary: Till Eulenspiegel was a real person from Lower Saxony in the 14th century. After his death around 1350, his adventures were related orally for over a century before finding their way into print. A poor and despised peasant, Till’s pranks spared no one: the rascal’s victims included clergy, kings, academics, and even his own peers. He cannot therefore be reduced to a mere opponent of authority, which only adds to the character’s complexity. A rebel against all established order, he represents a sort of pure freedom.

The inspiration Strauss drew from this story seems to have sidestepped written language and been poured directly into the music. Franz Wüllner, the conductor charged with premiering the work, hoping to learn more about its program, asked Strauss about the nature of the pranks he had set to music. Strauss replied with the following telegram: “Analysis impossible for me. All wit spent in notes”. From its premiere on November 5, 1895, Till Eulenspiegel was a huge hit and elicited many attempts to interpret its programmatic material, but Strauss waited a year before providing critic Wilhelm Mauke with some hints. After a short “once upon a time” introduction, Till’s themes are introduced and interspersed throughout the work’s different episodes, which include wreaking havoc in a marketplace, disguising himself as a clergyman, proposing marriage to a young girl (and being rebuffed), various dark schemes of vengeance against humanity, and, fi nally, his execution – an element that shows Strauss had little allegiance to the “original” story, since in reality, Till died of the plague.

Entitled Till Eulenspiegel einmal anders! (Till Eulenspiegel Differently, for Once!), this arrangement of the tone poem for violin, clarinet, bassoon, horn, and double bass by Austrian composer Franz Hasenöhrl (1885 – 1970) pares down Strauss’s instrumental forces and the work’s overall length by cutting out repeats and transitions. Premiered in 1954, it is likely Hasenöhrl’s only published work.

© Florence Brassard
English Translation: Peter Christensen

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Les Solistes de l’OSM / OSM Chamber Soloists
Andrew Wan
AN 2 8745 Max Richter Portrait
AN 2 8745 Max Richter Portrait

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