About this work
These six German Dances, as they are also known, were composed around, or just prior to, the time Beethoven was working on his Symphony No. 2, and musicologists have been quick to point out similarities between the two works. Both the Symphony and the dances are in the key of D (D minor in the case of the fourth dance), and there are many harmonic, rhythmic, and even thematic shared features. The Second Symphony was nearly as revolutionary as the Eroica Symphony (1803), and while these dances can claim no great significance in advancing musical forms or imparting influence to contemporary composers, they are nonetheless far from negligible efforts in terms of both musical attractiveness and harmonic experimentation.
These dances are all colorful and tuneful, full of vigor and high spirits and containing a sense of humor. Listening to them one can sense the festive mood and even imagine dancers in motion. Despite the formal limits of this kind of light music, Beethoven manages to impart a of sense of adventure throughout most of this collection. There are some interesting rhythmic accents in the delightful fourth dance, and the buoyant rhythms of the first and fifth also offer similar offbeat inflections. Beethoven supplied some fairly advanced chromatic harmonies for the sixth dance, which, though different in character, are similar in sound to those in the codas of the symphony's outer movements.
One might observe that these dances would sound closer still to the symphony if Beethoven had fashioned an orchestral version of them, which he often did. In this case he made a transcription for piano -- a sign that, even though the set was not assigned an opus number, he thought reasonably well of it. This set was published in Vienna in 1802.