Beethoven’s Septet in E-flat, Op. 20: of which its composer, in a rather curmudgeonly mood, is reported to have said “That damned work; I wish it could be burned!”
The piece was written in 1800, when Beethoven was thirty, and became extremely popular; so much so that the composer felt it overshadowed his later and, according to the man himself (and lots of other commentators), better compositions – hence the decidedly grumpy quotation above.
It’s scored for clarinet, bassoon, horn, violin, viola, cello and double bass and has a slightly different family tree from most other chamber music. Quintets, sextets, etc., are usually an augmentation of the personnel of smaller ensembles (adding an extra viola to a string quartet, for instance), but this septet actually represents a down-sizing of the small orchestras that were used at this time to play serenades, divertimentos and cassations for the entertainment of the nobility; a family relationship that’s borne out by the work, like many divertimentos, having a multi-movement structure.
Beethoven demonstrates canny marketing skills with this Septet. The work is, in effect, written for orchestra (albeit just two woodwind, one brass and a representative of every member of the string family). At a time when music was in transition from the great houses of the ennobled and their private orchestras to the commercial considerations of public concert halls and the ticket buying middle classes, Beethoven, by reducing the number of instrumentalists involved, created a medium that was appealing both aesthetically to the new musical public and financially to the impresarios.