Listening to Beethoven #125 – Piano Sonata in C major WoO 51

An Orphica by Joseph Dohnal (Kunsthistorisches Museum)

Piano Sonata in C major WoO 51 (1791-98, Beethoven aged 26)

Dedication Eleonore von Breuning
Duration 7′

1. Allegro
2. Adagio


Background and Critical Reception

There are conflicting reports on the origins of this short piano sonata. Some scholars suggest the work was begun in 1791, with Beethoven still in Bonn – while others interpret correspondence to mean the composer was writing for the orphica, a small keyboard instrument like the clavichord that was in use at the time.

This would date the work to 1794 at the earliest, with more correspondence mentioning Eleonore von Breuning that suggested it was intended for her. There are two completed movements, making the sonata similar in design to the two works of Op.49. The second was finished by Beethoven’s friend Ferdinand Ries, and published posthumously in 1830.


The dimensions of this piece may be similar to the Op.49, but so is the musical style. The fact the composition spans several years suggests Beethoven was sufficiently attached to the music to want to see it through to the end, and listening to the work confirms his instincts were strong.

The first movement begins with an attractive flourish, and the right hand is allowed to run free. The open textures and movement between the hands face back towards the Baroque rather than forwards, but Beethoven’s use of unusual keys in the development of the main theme are a sign he was still subtly innovating.

The second movement, in F major, is a tender Adagio that has no need to hurry, and subsides to a gentle conclusion, a nicely poised aria in all but name.

Recordings used

Jenő Jandó (Naxos)
Ronald Brautigam (BIS)

Spotify links

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 1798 Koželuch Sinfonia Concertante in E flat major

Next up 8 Variations on ‘Une fièvre brûlante’ WoO 72

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