Beethoven was twenty-nine years old when his friend Ignaz Schuppanzigh successfully performed his opus 20, the Septet in E-flat major, at Himmelpfortgasse 1023 in December 1799. An eventful year came to an end for the young composer from Bonn, in which he was completed with the first cycle of his string quartets and was about to bring the first notes of his First Symphony to paper. The year 1799 was also a lonely milestone for his love life, as he met his "immortal beloved", presumably Countess Josephine Brunsvik, who however married a duke shortly afterwards, but remained his pupil. The original version of the Septet dedicated for clarinet, bassoon, horn, violin, viola, violoncello and double bass became Beethoven's most popular work during his lifetime, until 1830 even his most played piece ever, a fact which is said to have become quite annoying for old Beethoven. The appeal of the septet lies in its diversity, which ingeniously unites the characters of symphony, solo concerto and chamber music.
The Introduction, Theme & Variations by Joseph Küffner, who as a contemporary of Beethoven and son of a Franconian family of musicians learned to play the flute, clarinet, trombone and French horn autodidactically, is not as ingenious as Beethoven's Septet. At the time he composed his Introduction, Theme & Variations, he was entrusted by the then Prince-Bishop of Würzburg with reforming the city's military music. At the time when Beethoven's late works were being composed, Joseph Küffner was a member of the princely court orchestra of Grand Duke Ferdinand III of Tuscany and was active composing for string and wind ensembles. This was also the occasion he composed the Introduction, Theme & Variations for clarinet and strings initially assigned to Carl Maria von Weber.
The present album, dedicated primarily to the clarinet, is rounded off with two showpieces by Johann Strauss, the Frühlingsstimmenwalzer and the musical joke Perpetuum Mobile. The arrangement of the two Strauss earwigs for clarinet and string orchestra as well as for some further wind instruments in "joke" is the work of the British clarinetist Emma Johnson, who above all in her arrangement for the "joke" proves enormous musical humour and unlimited joy of playing, which also sets the tone in Beethoven and Küffner and perfectly complements the brilliant, bravura clarinet playing with its noble melodiousness. Emma Johnson is considered a musician already known to every child in Great Britain, even though here we are dealing with the genre "classical" and not "pop". Their albums are bestsellers and announce their locally achieved fame worldwide. Her present album again announces her high instrumental qualities and her musical overview. She can be heard here with her ensemble Emma Johnson & Friends, whose live concert from last year in Southampton forms the basis for the album. Among the "Friends" are the Carducci Quartet together with Chris West double bass on the string side, and on the wind side Peter Francombe, horn and Philip Gibbon, bassoon, all excellent experts on their instrument.
Beethoven, who was personally present at the premiere of his Septet, would undoubtedly have enjoyed the performance of Emma Johnson & Friends. Had he foreseen that his Septet, which was so successful during his lifetime, would still be highly esteemed by the audience almost 220 years later, the fact that it had been his most famous piece during his lifetime would not have gone against the grain.
Emma Johnson, clarinet
Philip Gibbon, bassoon
Peter Francomb, horn
Matthew Denton, violin
Eoin Schmidt-Martin, viola
Emma Denton, cello
Chris West, double bass