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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No.7 in A major Op.92 (
arr. composer, 1816) (1812) [33:13]
Fidelio: Overture Op.72b (arr. Wenzel Sedlak, 1815) (1814) [6:03]
rec. Sint Gilliskerk, Brugge (Bruges), August 1984. DDD
Booklet notes in English, French and German
ACCENT ACC10034 [39:16]

Experience Classicsonline

“The transcription is in general a subject, which in this day and age (a prolific time for transcriptions) an author can only struggle against in vain; but at least one can rightfully demand that the publisher declares the fact on the title-page, so that the reputation of the author is not diminished and the public is not deceived”.

These are Beethoven’s own words from November 1802 in protest against unauthorised arrangements of his music. Not only was there no modern-day concept of copyright but it was through transcriptions that many works reached a larger audience and there was a great profusion of such arrangements. Perhaps the best-known examples are those wonderful wind octet arrangements of Mozart’s operas by the trio of Bohemian wind players Joseph Triebensee (1772-1846), Johann Nepomuk Wendt (1745-1801) and Wenzel Sedlak (1776-1851). Less well-known is that Mozart himself arranged Il seraglio as a way of making some extra money and of retaining some control of at least one of the transcriptions of his work. Such was the popularity of this octet ensemble that it was given its own name - the Harmonie. Sedlak was a court clarinettist for most of his adult life until 1835, when the Harmonie of Prince Liechtenstein was dissolved, retiring Sedlak on a pension. He was a prodigious transcriber of operas by, among others, Auber, Bellini, Donizetti and Rossini. The transcription he made of eleven sections from Beethoven’s Fidelio in 1815 is considered to be his greatest achievement and Beethoven even sanctioned Sedlak’s arrangement himself. Because of Beethoven’s predilection for wind instruments, Sedlak’s version of the Overture to Fidelio loses very little tone colour in this version for wind octet plus contrabassoon in relation to the original – testament surely to Sedlak’s great transcription skills. The Overture is shorn of 25 bars - where, in the original, there is a modulation from C major to B major. These are replaced by two bars of unison writing – the sort of ‘artistic licence’ that was common such arrangements. It is also transcribed down to C major to better suit the ranges of the instruments. 

Beethoven made his own Harmonie transcriptions of his Seventh and Eighth Symphonies in 1816, which were published along with versions for string quartet, piano trio, piano duet and solo piano, all ‘under the direct supervision of their creator’. I have to say that I was slightly disappointed in the transcription of the Seventh Symphony. This was a surprise as I am a lover of the wind octet repertoire and, Beethoven was supremely skilful in his writing for winds. Perhaps the music of this great symphony does not lend itself to such diminution; nor to the other mutations to which it is subjected; the whole symphony is transposed down a whole tone to G major but the scherzo retains its original key of F major, thereby destroying the key relationship Beethoven originally put in place. Although the first and second movements survive structurally intact in Beethoven’s transcription (including, perhaps surprisingly, the first movement exposition repeat), the scherzo is shorn of the whole of the second scherzo and trio section, while the finale is stripped altogether of its wonderful development section. 

The members of Octophoros play on period instruments or reproductions. Period-instrument playing was not as highly developed when this recording was made in 1984 and the sound lacks a little bite and focus for me – particularly the rather wobbly, muffled contrabassoon which has little of the impact I would have hoped for in bolstering the bass line of the music. 

The playing time for this CD is woefully short – presumably because the CD is just a simple recreation of a vinyl LP. However, CD-singles apart, I deplore any company that less than half-fills its CDs for commercial release. At barely over 39 minutes, this issue could hardly be said to be value for money. This CD will be an interesting curiosity for those with a fascination for wind music and transcriptions but, for me, did not stand up to repeated listening. 

Derek Warby 


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