Beethoven's big "F-U" to Haydn


Beethoven's first set of works he published in Vienna were the three piano trios that make up his Op. 1 (No. 1 in E-flat major, No. 2 in G major and No. 3 in C minor). While he had published several small pieces prior to this, his Op. 1 was intended to be a big event and a premiere party of sorts was thrown by Prince Lichnowsky, whom the Opus was dedicated to.

Beethoven was a 'student' of Haydn at the time, though the term student is used rather loosely because Beethoven himself felt that Haydn was a poor teacher* and wasn't giving him the best musical education, even hiring other teachers he studied with in secret when Haydn traveled back and forth to London.

As the story goes, Haydn was present at the premiere party and advised Beethoven against publishing the third trio in C minor, believing the public wouldn't understand him and it would be poorly received. While looking back on the dates it is more likely Haydn first heard them AFTER returning from London (at which point they were already published), Haydn did make it clear he thought publishing the C minor trio was a mistake.

With his frustrations towards Haydn in mind, Beethoven decided to ignore his advice and the C minor trio ultimately became the most successful of the Op. 1 trios. Beethoven suspected some degree of sabotage from Haydn for trying to get him to pull what became the most successful of the three, and many techniques that debuted in the work would later become hallmark of Beethoven's "C-minor mood." In fact, he included rather sophisticated C minor works in almost every opus set he published in his early Vienna years. Discounting his Cantata on the Death of Emperor Joseph II, WoO 87, his was his first C minor work that set up the long string of famous works as listed below (all in C minor) :

Piano Trio, Op. 1/3

String Trio, Op. 9/3

Piano Sonata Op. 10/1

Piano Sonata 'Pathétique', Op. 13

Piano Concerto No. 3

String Quartet, Op. 18/4

Violin Sonata Op. 30/2

Symphony No. 3 'Eroica' in E-flat major, Op. 55 (movement two, the groundbreaking funeral march, is in C minor)

32 Variations on an Original Theme for piano, WoO 80

Coriolan Overture, Op. 62

Symphony No. 5, Op. 67 (likely the most famous of all of them)

Choral Fantasy, for piano, choir and orchestra, Op. 80

Piano Sonata Op. 111 (his last piano sonata)

Likely all the aspects of this C minor piano trio Haydn objected to were eventually the very things that continued to evolve into central aspects of his compositional style. So listen to the trio and imagine Beethoven thumbing his nose at Haydn, because he certainly was.

*In fact, while Beethoven's Op. 2 (a set of three piano sonatas) are dedicated to Haydn, Beethoven refused to add the phrase 'pupil of Haydn' after his name on the cover of the publication (as was customary at the time), saying that although he had taken several lessons with Haydn, he never learned a thing from him. Ouch.

Get the recording mentioned in this post:

Below is both the recording from the video in this post as well as another by Beaux Arts Trio, which is the one I have in my library.