Beethoven Cantatas Show Early Promise

Leif Segerstam’s cycle of Beethoven choral works continues with some of his earliest compositions. In 1790, the nineteen-year-old Beethoven was a court musician in Bonn. He was commissioned to write two cantatas.

Basically, it was “the king is dead, long live the king.” The first cantata was to mourn the death of the recently deceased Emperor Joseph II of Austria. The second (logically) to celebrate the crowning of Leopold II.

Oddly, neither work was performed, and the cantata only came to light in the 1880s. So what does teenage Beethoven sound like? Beethoven.

The Emperor Joseph cantata foreshadows the brooding and stormy passages of the adult Beethoven. I heard parts that reminded me of his oratorio, choruses from “Fidelio,” and elements of the Sixth Symphony.

The Leopold cantata foreshadows the happier Beethoven. In this case, the finales of several symphonies (like the Ninth), and the Choral Fantasy.

These cantatas don’t have the depth of any of those mature works. But there’s no mistaking who wrote them — and the immense talent already at his command.

Leif Segerstam conducts some impassioned performances. I suspect they sound better here than they ever would have in 1790 Bonn.

Ludwig van Beethoven
Cantata on the Death of Emperor Joseph II
Cantanta on the Accession of Leopold II
Reetta Haavisto, Johann Lehesvuori, sopranos; Thomas Katajala, tenor; Juha Kotilainen, Niklas Spangberg, bass
Chorus Cathedralis Aboensis; Key Ensemble
Turku Philharmonic Orchestra; Leif Segerstam, conductor
Naxos 8.574077


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