This year is the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth. I have noticed that the violin concerto fragment WoO 5 is being programmed throughout 2020 as part of the celebrations. I believe that this reconstruction/performing edition is the only one in the world that enables the concerto to be performed as a three-movement work.
Beethoven Violin Concerto in C
Reconstruction and performing edition by: Stephen Scotchmer
Shortly before Beethoven left Bonn to settle in Vienna, he composed a violin concerto in C major (1790-1792). There is a lot of conjecture as to whether the work was abandoned, (only 259 bars survive) or whether it was mostly completed and is now mostly lost. The manuscript is complete in terms of scoring and performing directions etc. right up to the last surviving bar. Beethoven also wrote a cadenza (for piano) based on thematic material closely resembling the opening motive of the first movement. It is possible that he may have re-worked the piece as a piano concerto (for his own use). He tended to write cadenzas for his concertos immediately prior to a performance – implying that the work was indeed finished. As late as 1822, Beethoven was offering the work for sale to the publisher Peters!
I first came across the fragment of the violin concerto by Beethoven in Bristol University’s music library during the 1970’s. In the summer of 2007, I went back to Bristol, made a copy of the fragment and started to research the concerto’s origins. I was initially dismayed to find out that there had been several completions of the piece! One by Joseph Hellmsberger Sen. in 1879,(apparently rather pedestrian and flawed by the fact that he changed the original scoring, adding trumpets and timpani). Another by Juan Manen,(a Spanish violinist) in 1933. A version by August Wilhelmj which according to Tovey, recapitulates the wrong thematic material, and a more recent version by Wilfred Fischer in 1971. The Fischer completion prides itself on the fact that there are only 24 bars that are not directly derived from the Beethoven score. The down side of this is that the proportions of the movement are compromised as a result. Beethoven’s score ends abruptly, a short way into the development section. Fischer only writes a handful of bars before effecting a recapitulation! Given the scale of the opening orchestral tutti, one would expect a development section to be considerably longer (in the region of another 100 bars).
The two Romances for violin and orchestra (in F and G) are scored for the same orchestral forces as the fragment: one flute, a pair of oboes, bassoons and horns, plus strings. Although they were published later (1802), it is possible that they were written earlier and that one or other of them was intended as a slow movement for the C major violin concerto. Beethoven reworked several of the compositions he wrote whilst in Bonn, during his first couple of years in Vienna. The style, scale and technical demands of these pieces is consistent with the writing in the surviving fragment. I chose the G major Romance to be the middle movement as it combines particularly well with the preceding first movement and the Rondo, which follows.
When completing the first movement fragment, I tried to address the pitfalls that have beset previous attempts. This latest version is scored for the orchestral forces specified by Beethoven. It is written for divisi violas throughout. The proportions of the movement have been restored to what one would expect (using other concertos by Beethoven as models) and the recapitulation of ideas from the exposition has been restricted to the restatement of the main themes rather than repeating the more discursive developmental passage work. I wrote cadenzas for the two outer movements that focus on musical content rather than mindless technical display.
The first movement (listen here) begins with a lengthy orchestral introduction, which is harmonically very adventurous. The opening motive (an arpeggio, characterized by dotted rhythms) features a great deal throughout the movement. Beethoven waits until the solo exposition before presenting his contrasting second idea in G major. The development section is quite eventful. Much of the figuration already introduced by the solo violin is combined with a new motive, stated in the eighth bar of the soloist’s opening gambit. There is a significant episode in F minor before the music returns to the opening material. During the recapitulation, the bridge passage between the first and second groups of themes is extended and modified to effect the obligatory key adjustment. An orchestral tutti leads us to the cadenza and this is followed by a reflective coda, which gathers momentum in order to conclude the movement.
The Romance (listen here) begins (unusually) with the solo violin presenting the initial theme (unaccompanied) in double stops. The orchestra immediately takes this up, before a second strand of the melody is performed in a similar fashion. The music gravitates towards D major before returning to the opening idea. There is a central section in E minor, which (like the outer sections) employs variation techniques. The overall structure is ABA.
The last movement (listen here) is a Rondo structure – (Sonata Rondo) A, (B b2 B), C, A, (B b2 B) Cadenza A/Coda. It has a typical ‘rustic’ character, due in part to the 6/8 time signature, which propels it through the various episodes and repetitions of the main theme. The contrasting sections are in the keys of A minor and G major respectively. The first episode material (B) is turned into a fugato passage shortly before the cadenza and the coda is fairly extensive and includes a ‘new look’ at some of the material heard previously. The movement concludes with a brief Presto, which enables the concerto to end with a bravura flourish.