BEETHOVEN Ludwig van, National Airs for flute and piano Op.105 & Op.107

The Scottish publisher and folksong collector George Thomson (1751–1851) – a friend of Robert Burns and Walter Scott – first approached Beethoven for some arrangements of Scottish songs as early as 1803, and eventually 25 of them (Beethoven’s Op. 108, for which the composer was well remunerated) were published by Thomson in 1818. Two years earlier, Thomson had written asking for some instrumental variations ‘in an agreeable style, not too difficult’. When he formally commissioned them in June 1818, Thomson also requested ad lib. flute parts, explaining that ‘we have a large number of flautists but alas, our violinists are few’, reminding Beethoven that the music should be ‘in a familiar, easy and slightly brilliant style.’

Thomson received the variations from Beethoven on 28 December 1818, and the National Airs with variations for the piano-forte and an accompaniment for the flute were published in July 1819, in a handsome edition that included a portrait of Beethoven on the title page. As musicologist and museum archivist Pamela Willetts has observed, they were not a commercial success. In 1820, Thomson wrote to Beethoven, grumbling that ‘the variations were not selling and that his outlay was a complete loss.’

© Nigel Simeone


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