Beethoven: Duet in E flat Major “With Two Eyeglasses Obbligato” WoO 3, for viola and cello


Beethoven’s spectacles

“Eyeglasses Duo” is the nickname, the short title for the Duet “with two eyeglasses obligato (“mit zwei obligaten Augengläsern”, woo 32), a duo for viola and cello in E flat major by Beethoven.

It’s not very clear why Beethoven gave the Eyeglasses duo its funny name. Beethoven wrote it around 1796-7, but it was published only in 1912. Most certainly he wrote it for his friend and cello player Baron Nikolaus Zmeskall von Domanovecz. Beethoven himself played the viola so it’s very likely that he intended the duo for them to play together.

Nikolaus Zmeskall was one of the first people Beethoven met when arriving in Vienna. He was secretary in the Hungarian Chancellery and remained Beethoven’s friend all his life. He was a skilled amateur cello player and composer.

Zmeskall used to provide Beethoven with quills for his piano, wine and helped him in finding accommodations, correcting the proofs of his editions and doing many other things. There are many letters that show how the relationship between them was close, intimate, and these letters are very different from the ones written to other friends or patrons. Beethoven calls him ‘Count of Music’, ‘Most beloved Conte di Musica’, Most excellent Count of Music’, ‘Baron (and still bachelor)’, teasing him in many ways.

In one of this letters he apparently teases Zmeskall for his short-sightedness, saying “je vous suis bien obligé pour votre faiblesse des votre yeux” (“I am most bliged for the weakness of your eyes”). This might explain the funny title of the eyeglasses duo. So, if you were Beethoven, able to play viola, and had such a close friend, wouldn’t you play this duo with him?