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A New Work by Beethoven

On Sunday 1 March, 2009 at the Murphy Auditorium in Chicago, the audience was treated to a world première performance of a new work by the composer Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), and it's not often you can say that. Okay, not exactly a 'new' work, but certainly one that as far as is known, had never previously been played in the form in which it was presented that evening.

The work concerned was the first movement of a Piano Trio in E flat, an arrangement by Beethoven himself, for piano, violin and cello, of an early String Trio (violin, viola and cello) opus 3, that he wrote about 1792. Beethoven worked on this arrangement sometime between 1800 and 1805, but only got as far as completing the first movement and 43 bars of the second movement. For over 100 years the manuscript disappeared, not to resurface until 1920, when it was rediscovered and published by the German musicologist Willy Hess (1906-1997). The music journal in which Hess published the manuscript, Zeitschrift für Musikwissenschaft, was only recently-founded at the time, and so no great attention was drawn to the work. In the New Hess Catalogue of Beethoven's Works it is listed as Hess 47: Piano Trio arrangement of String Trio op. 3.

The 12-minute piano trio movement was performed in Chicago by the Beethoven Project Trio: pianist George Lepauw, violinist Sang Mee Lee and cellist Wendy Warner. The two string-players of the trio were lucky enough to be loaned, for the performance, a 1703 Stradivarius violin and a 1739 Guarnerius cello. The evening's concert also included the American premières of two other once-lost Beethoven pieces: a piano trio in D major Anh.13 and another E flat trio, the op.63. The programme was rounded off with a performance of the very popular Archduke Trio op.97, the last piece Beethoven is known to have performed publicly. The concert was broadcast live on WFMT-FM, Chicago's classical music radio station.

The music is not yet masterful Beethoven— it is an early work— but the first movement's main theme is interesting enough with some unexpectedly wide leaps in its melodic line. The piano part features some long crescendos with sequences of repeated, pounding quavers. There are also a number of false halts and some abrupt changes in dynamic, which may be been designed to ensure that the listener's attention didn't wander.

To make the evening at the Murphy Auditorium even more special for patrons, an exhibition of some original Beethoven manuscripts, together with a framed lock of Beethoven's hair was on display.

Till next time, happy listening.

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19.03.09 Front Page

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1Abbreviation of Anhang (Ger.=Appendix) of the Klinsky catalogue. This appendix listed works attributed to Beethoven, but not positively identified as being written by him.

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