Happy Birthday, Beethoven!

A musical birthday card to mark the 250th anniversary of Beethoven's birth: Tabea Zimmermann, Daniel Sepec and Jean-Guihen Queyras play one of the composer's early trios.

»It's always exciting to take a new look at Beethoven's music. There is so much inspiration to be found there!«, viola player Tabea Zimmermann enthuses about the composer, who celebrated his big anniversary season in 2020. Together with her chamber-music partners of many years' standing, Daniel Sepec and Jean-Guihen Queyras, she recorded Beethoven's String Trio no. 1 in the Elbphilharmonie Recital Hall to mark the occasion.

Tabea Zimmermann, Daniel Sepec und Jean-Guihen Queyras mit Beethovens Streichtrio Nr. 1

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© Philipp Seliger

The Artists

The marvellous viola player Tabea Zimmermann garners great recognition all over the world for the untiring enthusiasm with which she communicates her insight into the works and her love of music to her audiences. She is one of the top interpreters of our time, and was awarded the prestigious Ernst von Siemens Music Prize in January 2020. Ms Zimmermann, who originally hails from the Black Forest area, has had a lot to do with Beethoven in recent years: from 2013 to 2020 she was president of the Beethoven Haus Society in Bonn, and thus artistic director of that city's Beethoven Festival. She attracted international attention with her successful activities in Bonn, and was appointed an honorary member of the society at the end of her term of office. A highlight of her preoccupation with Beethoven were the recordings she made on Beethoven's viola. After more than a century when no-one had played the instrument, Zimmermann »kissed it back to life« for modern ears and eyes with works written by Beethoven and by two of his contemporaries.

»The Beethoven string trios have been my regular companions for a long time: I played in a trio with my sisters for 15 years, and we played the early Beethoven trios over and over.«

Tabea Zimmermann

Zimmermann's partners Daniel Sepec and Jean-Guihen Queyras are both world-class musicians in their own right, at home at the world's leading concert venues. They have been appearing regularly as a trio for many years: their latest recitals with the Beethoven string trios were at London's Wigmore Hall, in Essen and at the Schwetzingen Festival. The three exceptional musicians have maintained a close relationship for many years now, and in 2002 they joined forces with violinist Antje Weithaas to form the successful Arcanto Quartet.

Die drei Künstler im Podcast-Gespräch mit unserem Pressesprecher Tom R. Schulz

»We also play quartets together. My history with Tabea goes back as far as the 1980s, when we both played in the German Youth Orchestra! We represent a mixture of fellow musicians and good friends – it's really a musical friendship for life.«

Daniel Sepec

Programme

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827)
String Trio Es-Dur op. 3 (1794/1795)

Allegro con Brio
Andante
Menuetto. Allegretto – Trio
Adagio
Menuetto. Allegretto – Minore
Finale. Allegro

»You can hear Beethoven tinkering. He combines the instruments differently and turns them around time after time. And in the process, he develops something completely new.«

Jean-Guihen Queyras

Gespräch mit den Künstlern

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The Music

»I have become one of Mozart's greatest admirers, and I shall remain one till I breathe my last.«

Beethoven, 1827

All good things come in threes – violin, viola and cello. That's probably what Mozart thought in 1788 when he wrote the first, pioneering string trio. And even if this line-up was never to become as prominent as the string quartet, Mozart broke the ground for a new genre that was subsequently taken up by Beethoven and Schubert. The young Beethoven was a great Mozart fan, and the Mozart string trio inspired him to write a string trio of his own. Beethoven's Trio in E flat is probably the first piece he wrote after he moved from Bonn to Vienna – a promising first step on the way to his unprecedented career in the Austrian capital.

The string trio genre remained a love of Beethoven's youth. He composed a total of five works for the combination of three strings, all of them in the 1790s. In other words, the trios were all written before the First Symphony. But that doesn't mean that they constituted a kind of training camp for the big league of the symphonies. On the contrary: even if there are a few echoes of Mozart in his first trio (Beethoven adopted both the key and the many movements from the Mozart trio), there is already evidence of Beethoven's own, innovative style. The first movement opens with a short and succinct motif that turns into a kind of motto for the whole movement – an idea that the composer later evolved to the full with the famous »knocking motif« in the Fifth Symphony. By way of contrast, the economical second movement sounds like a draft for the slow movement of the First Symphony or the adagio of his String Quartet No. 6.

Christmas with the Beethovens
Of course, Beethoven not only celebrated his birthday, but also Christmas. How the famous composer spent Christmas Eve as a child is told by his neighbor and childhood friend Gottfried Fischer.

None © Philipp Seliger
Tabea Zimmermann Tabea Zimmermann © Philipp Seliger
Daniel Sepec Daniel Sepec © Philipp Seliger
Jean-Guihen Queyras Jean-Guihen Queyras © Philipp Seliger
None © Philipp Seliger

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