(Бетховенский фестиваль 2007, запись Deutsche Welle)
Beethoven's pieces for wind ensemble do not represent his best work, but they may be profitably examined as testing grounds for the treatment of wind instruments in the composer's symphonies. That we find a disproportionately large number of works for winds dating from Beethoven's early years is not surprising, for works for wind ensemble were considered light music -- Beethoven hesitated before offering works in the serious symphony and string quartet genres that in the 1790s were dominated by his teacher Haydn.
Apparently a piece d'occasion for the Elector Maximilian Franz, who enjoyed hearing music for wind ensembles during his supper, the Octet, Op. 103, was probably completed before November 1792, when Beethoven left Bonn for Vienna. In 1793, after beginning his studies with Haydn, Beethoven revised the work, probably with an eye toward publication, all the while telling Haydn it was a new piece. In 1795 he recomposed the Octet as a string quintet, which he had published the next year as his Op. 4. The original version, for two each of oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon, did not appear in print until 1830, when it was issued by Artaria & Co. in Vienna. A single-movement Rondino, WoO 25, was probably intended as the original finale for the Octet.
The work is one of the very few successful works in the sonata style that Beethoven produced in Bonn. His songs, variation sets, and large orchestra-chorus pieces from this period are generally more interesting than those in the small-scale sonata format, such as the Trio, WoO 37. Here, though, there are hints of the motivic concentration to come. The first movement, an Allegro in 2/2, is a sonata-form structure that modulates from E flat major to the dominant, B flat major, as the secondary key area. The second-theme group consists of a brief new theme followed by numerous repetitions of a motive from the main theme. Making the most of his motivically conceived opening tune, Beethoven continues to use the same material through the close of the exposition. The main motive of the first theme again serves as the focus of the development, which never ventures far from the home key. Beethoven modifies the recapitulation by eliminating many measures and developing the second theme.
Contrast is the salient feature of the Andante, written in 6/8 and B flat major. Beethoven alternates pairs of instruments throughout this wistful movement, in which the dark clarinets tend to play most of the interesting melodic material. The ensuing Menuetto, in 3/4 and E flat major, fits the traditional scheme of the Classical-era minuet, but with some unusual expansion. It is based on humorous octave leaps and scales, and, always seeming ready to veer briefly into a minor mode, owes a good deal to Haydn. After the sustained, triadic A theme moves to the dominant, the B section begins with the same oboe gesture as the A theme. Thereafter, however, the B section proceeds with new, mostly stepwise melodic material passing from instrument to instrument. The return of the opening material begins almost literally, but is then expanded and mixed with reminiscences of the B section. The Finale is marked Presto and, like the first movement, is in 2/2. Throughout this rapid rondo, Beethoven juxtaposes solo passages with tutti outbursts, culminating in a dynamically unpredictable coda.
(John Palmer, Rovi, answers.com)