11 Mödlinger Tänze

Ludwig van Beethoven

11 Mödlinger Tänze

WoO. 17 • “Elf Weiner Tänze”

About this work

The authorship of these Eleven Mödlinger Dances is in doubt. Schindler, hardly the most reliable source on Beethoven, claimed that the composer wrote a collection of waltzes in 1819 while staying at an inn near Mödling. But that score never turned up in the composer's lifetime -- not, in itself, necessarily an unusual circumstance. Hugo Riemann came across this set of dances in Leipzig in 1905 and determined it to be the one referred to by Schindler. They were first published in Leipzig two years later. Beethoven may have indeed written this collection, but certain stylistic traits seem to cast doubt on his authorship, especially in light of his more serious and deeper manner druing his last creative period. Yet Beethoven did write a fair number of short, light, even frivolous works around this time, too, including a number of his canons and puzzle canons. The stylistic arguments largely center on improbable key sequences in these works, and it is quite possible, maybe even probable, that Beethoven composed these dances.

The first dance sounds as though it might have come from the composer's pen, all right, but from a much earlier time than 1819. Could Beethoven have reworked a hitherto suppressed composition, of which there were many? He certainly showed an interest in returning to his early works during his last years. The repetitive and rollicking nature of the second dance again sounds quite possibly as though it came from the composer's early years. What is odd about all these pieces, though -- and what may well be the best argument for their authenticity -- is that they are short, like many of the bagatelles, late waltzes, and canons. If Beethoven had drawn on earlier pieces for this collection, he might have shortened them. Or, if he had fashioned new music from older styles, he would also have been brief. These eleven works last a bit under 15 minutes in a typical performance.

Most of the other pieces here also show traits of the composer's style in the late eighteenth century. The ninth dance is most interesting for its mixture of older and then-newer styles. There are some pungent dissonances amid festive-sounding music that spice the atmosphere with clever sonic mischief. The last two pieces here are also of considerable musical interest. Yet one may come away from a hearing of this collection with the feeling that if Beethoven was indeed the composer of this music, he was hot-and-cold when he wrote it.