Listening to Beethoven #115 – Allegretto in C minor, WoO 53


Commemorative medal for Ludwig van Beethoven, around 1970. Photography, probably by Giandavide Tamborra after his plaster model for a medal, probably from 1970, Reproduced from the Beethoven-Haus Bonn with thanks.

Allegretto in C minor WoO 53 for piano (thought to be from 1796-7, Beethoven aged 26)

Dedication not known
Duration 4′

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

There is very little written about this piece, but the few surviving notes suggest it might be an unpublished movement intended for the Piano Sonata no.5 in C minor, published as the first in the Op.10 set around this time.

Thoughts

The mood is pensive and quite downcast for the main theme of this short movement, and Beethoven develops it with the serious mood intact. Set in C minor, it is a thoughtful piece and on occasion has a bit of angst, especially when the heavier left-hand writing appears.

Having said that the clouds part beautifully for a theme in C major around half way through, where the darkness to light transition is very clear. Towards the end the music nearly stops, poised as though pondering its next move…before resolving in the minor key, in downbeat contemplation.

The Allegretto certainly feels like a piece without a home – and given the finished product that is Op.10/1 it is difficult to see where it would have fitted in. It makes a good miniature, though!

Recordings used and Spotify links

Alfred Brendel (Decca)
Gianluca Cascioli (Deutsche Grammophon)
Ronald Brautigam (BIS)
Jenő Jandó (Naxos)
Rudolf Buchbinder (Teldec)
Olli Mustonen (BMG)

Alfred Brendel is compelling in his version, turning the frowns to smiles as the C major theme appears. Gianluca Cascioli starts very deliberately before unleashing a considerable amount of angst around the 1 minute mark. Ronald Brautigam is swift, his phrasing clipped but urgent.

The attached playlist has six very different accounts of the Allegretto, from Brautigam to Jandó via Brendel, Cascioli, Buchbinder and Olli Mustonen:

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 1797 James Hewitt Piano Sonata in D major ‘The Battle of Trenton’

Next up Fra tutte le pene WoO 99/3b

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