Ludwig van Beethoven and Peter von Winter (right)
7 Variations on ‘Kind, willst du ruhig schlafen’ WoO 75 for piano (1792-99, Beethoven aged 28)
written by Ben Hogwood
What’s the theme like?
The theme, written by German contemporary Peter von Winter, is a compact tune, with quite a clipped melody – simple but ripe for development.
Background and Critical Reception
This set of seven variations on a quartet, Kind, willst du ruhig schlafen, from Peter von Winter’s opera Das unterbrochene Opferfest (The interrupted festival of sacrifice) appears to use all the four parts of the quartet as its inspiration.
Very little is written about this set, coming as it does in the middle of a rich vein of variation ‘form’ for Beethoven in the late 1790s. The general consensus is that he was enjoying himself and taking a feelw risks with harmony and form. This set would seem to confirm those notions.
Beethoven takes on the challenge with relish – so far very few of his variations have sounded routine. Having showcased the tune and a first variation, we get a glimpse in the second of a composer literally rolling up his sleeves as the piano surges up the scale. The next variation suggests a recent study of Handel, with pinpoint figuration and fluent movement.
A serious minor key diversion (variation no.6) is followed by an extended final variation and coda. Here Beethoven goes for a wander off the beaten track, moving unexpectedly into D major but with a surety and fluency that suggest this ‘surprise’ was well-planned all along. Sure enough the return ‘home’, with trills in the right hand, presents the theme in a subtly triumphant manner.
Recordings used and Spotify links
John Ogdon (piano) (EMI)
Cécile Ousset (piano) (Eloquence)
Ronald Brautigam (fortepiano) (BIS)
Cécile Ousset gives a typically characterful performance of these variations, with particularly enviable phrasing in the right hand of the chromatic fourth variation. John Ogdon is sparkling throughout, slightly drier in wit perhaps. Ronald Brautigam offers a vivid contrast on the fortepiano, played with plenty of fire and brimstone in the quicker music at the end of the coda.
Also written in 1799 Benjamin Carr Dead March and Monody
Next up Plaisir drainer WoO 128