BEETHOVEN 200 YEARS AGO TODAY: Wednesday, October 22, 1823

Beethoven delivers to the Heniksten banking and wholesaling firm Prince Nikolai Galitzin’s score of the Missa Solemnis, and collects his 50 ducat fee. Beethoven’s receipt is dated with today’s date. Henikstein will forward that receipt on October 25, and will ship the manuscript of the Mass to Galitzin in St. Petersburg sometime between these two dates.

The first of Ignaz Schuppanzigh’s six lunchtime quartet concerts in his second subscription series takes place today in the Great Room of the Musikverein. Today’s concert includes a Haydn Quartet in G, described as his “last work,” which probably means the quartet op.77/1 (Hob. III/81). Beethoven’s first quartet, op.18/1 in F was performed in this concert, as well as as the string quintet in G minor K.516 by Mozart, with Ferdinand Piringer joining in on second viola.

Today’s Vienna Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, Nr. 85 at 673-677 includes a lengthy review of the Piano Concerto #4 in C Minor, op.115 by Beethoven’s former pupil, Ferdinand Ries. The concerto was just published in Leipzig and London in 1823, and was dedicated to Ignaz Moscheles.

It’s never good when a review begins with an apology. The critic (probably editor Friedrich A. Kanne) notes that “We must, out of respect for the talented composer note that we have previously given honorable mention to his successful piano music, so that our censure of the product at hand appears less spiteful.” The review says that the concerto lacks the originality found in other works by Ries. “Passages and melodies shine with a technical skill as if they are from an armored pen stamping out every product from it.” And since this is Ries’ opus 115, he cannot claim the benefit of a statute of limitations for an early work. [Unbeknownst to the author, the concerto actually had been written back in 1809, when Ries was only 24.] Perhaps the result is evidence of the riches of productivity becoming routine, driven by the impatience with which the London public expects new works from him?

The first movement Allegro begins easily, but then the second solo contains a number of awkward jumps. Triplets are also more difficult than one might suspect at first glance. The middle part of the first solo in E-flat major is very pleasant and emotional. Here the figure work is brilliant and effective. The Adagio is only the transition to the final movement, and not really a completely free piece of music standing by itself. The player does get some very expressive passages that always surprise. In the third part, in which both hands run parallel, gives the opportunity for meaningful presentation in their entanglement and the alternation of rising and falling. But even if the fairly short subject is skillfully executed, and effects are achieved by weaving together passages, “here the twists and the melodies are not original and new enough. The transition to A-flat, in Dolce, seems more like the fruit of memory than of invention. The preceding diminuendo makes the player believe that something special is to come.” The composer seems not to have had confidence in the Adagio, moving on to the final passage, which gives a stronger impression through changing the tempo and gathering momentum.

“In general, this concerto comes across like those that have gone before in a more noble style and grander scale, in which the ruling forms are reflected. The instrumentation is like that of the newest taste, but a really effective use of different colors becomes visible. As a welcome change, the surprising entrances take place more often in the orchestra than in the piano part.”

The review concludes, “There is no way this is going make a decided impression in the world of art in this genre, as have the works of Hummel.” Ouch.

We at the Unheard Beethoven think this review is a bit harsh, but you can judge for yourself in this recording of Piano Concerto #4 op.115 by Ferdinand Ries, with Christopher Hinterhuber at the keyboard and Uwe Grodd conducting the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in a live presentation.