We have an incompetent “Herr Kaufmann” to thank for Beethoven’s Op 104 string quintet arrangement of his youthful masterpiece, the Third Piano Trio, and the author Vikram Seth for his inspired novel An Equal Musicwhich plucked the reworking from obscurity.
The Australian Chamber Orchestra’s Schubert’s Quintet. Photo © Daniel Boud
Beethoven was shown the amateur string quintet arrangement of his Piano Trio Op. 1 No 3 and it so angered him that he set about arranging it himself, “elevating it from abject wretchedness to moderate respectability”, as he remarked. He cremated Kaufmann’s attempt “as a solemn burnt offering to the gods of the underworld”.
Seth’s novel about a string quartet centres around their hunt for the elusive Op 104, of which at the time there was only one recording, a 1976 Supraphon long player. After the success of the novel the Czech record label reissued it, ensembles rushed to record it and the work started to be find its way on to concert programs.
Among its champions are the Australian Chamber Orchestra who are performing it as...