Septet (Beethoven)

The Septet in E-flat major, Opus 20, by Ludwig van Beethoven, was sketched out in 1799, completed, and first performed in 1800 and published in 1802.[1] The score contains the notation: "Der Kaiserin Maria Theresia gewidmet", or translated, "Dedicated to the Empress Maria Theresa."[1]


It is scored for clarinet, horn, bassoon, violin, viola, cello, and double bass.

Structure and analysis

The composition is in six movements:

  1. AdagioAllegro con brio (in E-flat major)
  2. Adagio cantabile (in A-flat major)
  3. Tempo di menuetto (in E-flat major)
  4. Tema con variazioni: Andante (in B-flat major)
  5. Scherzo: Allegro molto e vivace (in E-flat major)
  6. Andante con moto alla marcia (in E-flat minor) – Presto (in E-flat major)

The overall layout resembles a serenade and is in fact more or less the same as that of Mozart's string trio, K. 563 in the same key, but Beethoven expands the form by the addition of substantial introductions to the first and last movements and by changing the second minuet to a scherzo. The main theme of the third movement had already been used in Beethoven's Piano Sonata, (Op. 49 No. 2), which was an earlier work despite its higher opus number. The finale features a violin cadenza.

The scoring of the Septet for a single clarinet, horn and bassoon (rather than for pairs of these wind instruments) was innovative. So was the unusually prominent role of the clarinet, as important as the violin, quite innovative.

The Septet was one of Beethoven's most successful and popular works and circulated in many editions and arrangements for different forces. In about 1803 Beethoven himself arranged the work as a Trio for clarinet (or violin), cello and piano, and this version was published as his op. 38 in 1805.

Conductor Arturo Toscanini rearranged the string section of the Septet so that it could be played by the full string section of the orchestra, but he did not change the rest of the scoring. He recorded the Septet for RCA Victor with the NBC Symphony Orchestra on November 26, 1951, in Carnegie Hall.


Peter Schickele parodied the Septet with P.D.Q. Bach's Schleptet in E-flat Major, S.0, but replaces the clarinet and double bass with flute and oboe.

Franz Schubert composed his Octet for the clarinetist Ferdinand Troyer who had requested a piece similar to Beethoven's Septet, and the works accordingly resemble each other in many ways.

British composer Peter Fribbins composed a septet (subtitled "The Zong Affair") for the same instrumentation as Beethoven's, but took his influence more from a painting by J.M.W. Turner called "The Slave Ship".[2]


Excerpt from 1st movement
Performed by the Ensemble Mediterrain

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  1. 1 2 Anderson 1995, p. 3
  2. (no date) Available at: (Accessed: 13 October 2015)

External links

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