Listening to Beethoven #49 – Rondo for piano and orchestra in B flat major


Portrait of Beethoven as a young man by Carl Traugott Riedel

Rondo in B flat major WoO 6 for piano and orchestra (1793, Beethoven aged 22)

Dedication not known
Duration 9′

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

This work bears all the hallmarks of the last movement of a piano concerto, so it comes as no surprise to learn that it was originally intended as the finale for Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no.2 in B flat major, Op.19. This work was particularly long in the making, for it was begun – and more or less finished – in Bonn but held back from full publishing until 1801.

The Rondo, composed in 1793, stands alone, and is used by some pianists as an attractive filler to recordings of the concertos. It was not published in the composer’s lifetime, and the solo part needed completion by Beethoven’s student Carl Czerny before it was finally issued in 1829. Beethoven replaced the Rondo with another finale for the concerto, probably in 1794,

Writing about the piece in the booklet for his recent recording on Naxos, Boris Giltburg suggests the composer ‘felt that the Rondo was too jovial and gallant in spirit, and that the deeply poetic second movement (of the concerto) required a much more energetic, irreverent and humorous finale as a counterweight.’ He opts for the original version in his performance ’only adding short transitions and a cadenza where indicated by Beethoven. In my opinion, the Rondo is a lovely standalone piece, fun and carefree, and it deserves to be played—though I fully agree with Beethoven’s decision to remove it from the Concerto proper.’

Thoughts

The piano begins this piece with a bright, rippling theme, with Beethoven in effervescent mood. The strings respond with lilting syncopations, before the orchestra offer a fuller response. This is music with its roots in the dance, leading you to wonder if Beethoven was indeed experiencing new forms of dance in Vienna.

The piano has plenty of room for display, with quickfire ascents and descents, and extended passages with the fingers playing octaves apart. Beethoven does take room for the second theme, however, piano and strings uniting in a softer, detached melody which still has a dance lilt to it.

The piano leads the orchestra the whole way through, adding flicks and tricks to the mix while the orchestra look on. It is a classic concerto finale, and while at this stage we will take Boris Giltburg’s word for its successor being more suitable for the Piano Concerto no.2, we will have to try it out when the chance arises!

Recordings used

Ronald Brautigam (piano), Norrköpping Symphony Orchestra / Andrew Parrott (BIS)
Boris Giltburg (piano), Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra / Vasily Petrenko (Naxos)
Sviatoslav Richter (piano), Wiener Symphoniker / Kurt Sanderling (Deutsche Grammophon)

Ronald Brautigam’s version is unclear, but the shorter duration of his and Sviatoslav Richter’s recordings would suggest they have taken on Czerny’s revisions. Both versions are excellent, but Richter’s rapport with the orchestra in the softer passages is lovely. The freshness of Boris Giltburg’s account and the newness of the recording tips the scales in his favour, for he clearly loves the piece.

Spotify links

Boris Giltburg, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra / Vasily Petrenko (Naxos)

Ronald Brautigam, Norrköping Symphony Orchestra / Andrew Parrott

Sviatoslav Richter (piano), Wiener Symphoniker / Kurt Sanderling (Deutsche Grammophon)

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 1793 Haydn 3 String Quartets Op.74

Next up Piano Trio no.1 in E flat major Op.1/1

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