Romance No. 2 for Violin in F Major
Ludwig van Beethoven
Born in Bonn, Germany, December 16, 1770; died in Vienna, Austria, March 26, 1827
Although they were not published until 1803 and 1805 respectively, scholars believe that Beethoven’s two Violin Romances were probably written considerably earlier. Despite being labeled “No. 2,” the Romance in F Major was probably the first to be composed, perhaps in 1798 or even earlier. At this time, Beethoven was still in his twenties and busy establishing himself in Vienna as a keyboard virtuoso as well as composer. His radical new voice hadn’t emerged yet, and the model for his music was Mozart and certain French composers of the period. Nearly a decade before his magnificent Violin Concerto in D Major (1806), he attempted to write a violin concerto in C major, but did not get past its first movement. It is likely that one of these Romances might have been intended as a lyrical second movement for that aborted concerto.
A work of tender lyricism, the Romance in G follows a rondo format, with a returning refrain separating contrasting musical episodes. Its earnest, hymn-like refrain is sung by the violin, self-sufficiently accompanying itself with double-stopped notes, and then echoed by the orchestra. For maximal color contrast with the soloist, Beethoven first scores the orchestral part for woodwind choir over gently plucked strings. Only on its final return do soloist and orchestra unite on the rondo refrain, with the violin soaring into its high register for a rhapsodic, elegantly ornamented apotheosis of the melody.
The F-major Romance is a slow-tempo rondo; Beethoven later memorably used this more serious rondo style for the slow movement of his “Eroica” Symphony. The solo violin opens with the tenderly graceful refrain melody, which bears the expressive marking cantabile or “singing.” But this Romance also has its dramatic moments, and forceful proclamations introduce each of the episodes. Darkly dramatic, too, is the second episode, which explores various minor keys. As this piece closes, listen for the lovely effect of the violin’s final three-note descent being echoed by the woodwinds and then all the strings.
Instrumentation: Flute, two oboes, two bassoons, two horns and strings.