Listening to Beethoven #9 – Rondo in C major


Beethoven statuette – plaster cast by Gebrüder Micheli based on an original by Gustav Adolf Landgrebe (Beethoven-Haus, Bonn)

Rondo in C major WoO 48 for piano (1783, Beethoven aged 12)

Dedication not known
Duration 2’40

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

March 1783 saw a tragic time for the Beethoven family, as a younger brother to Ludwig, Franz Georg van Beethoven, died at the age of two. This precipitated a family visit from Rotterdam of the dead child’s sister, Maria Magdalena, who arranged for a return visit from Beethoven and the opportunity to perform new works.

With the three Electoral sonatas on the table Beethoven was really hitting his stride with writing for the piano, and with a first concerto just around the corner he produced another short Rondo for solo piano. Its exact composition date is not known, only that Beethoven was ‘around 12’.

Daniel Heartz describes the Rondo as having a ‘catchy and quite folk-like theme’. He says that ‘the model is clearly the second and last movement of Mozart’s Violin and Piano Sonata in G major K301’. Explaining in detail, he declares ‘The correspondence is evident not only in the theme but also in the way it is treated to rapid alternation of major and minor forms. Beyond looking up to Mozart as a legendary performer, Beethoven obviously took him as a model for composition. You can compare for yourself here:

Thoughts

Daniel Heartz’s observation is a fascinating one, and on listening it rings true. The purity of Beethoven’s theme is closely aligned to Mozart’s, though there is a slight glint in the eye at times, especially with one or two of its harmonic shifts. The use of C major is also in line with one of Mozart’s most popular piano sonatas.

Again, this is very surefooted music for a 12-year-old boy to be writing!

Recordings used

Mikhail Pletnev (DG); Jenő Jandó (Naxos), Ronald Brautigam (BIS)

Jenő Jandó takes the ‘Allegretto’ tempo marking more to heart with a slower reading which initially sounds quite pedestrian but makes sense when it has settled down. Ronald Brautigam goes for a very similar approach, adding a little more mystery to the middle section. Mikhail Pletnev is quite light hearted, and affectionate at the end – but his tempo choice is much faster than Beethoven indicates.

Spotify links

Mikhail Pletnev

Jenő Jandó

Ronald Brautigam

You can chart the Arcana Beethoven playlist as it grows, with one recommended version of each piece we listen to. Catch up here!

Also written in 1783 Paisiello La passione di Gesù Cristo

Next up Piano Concerto in E flat major WoO 4

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