Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Xaver Süssmayr (right)
8 Variations on ‘Tändeln und Scherzen’ WoO 76 for piano (1799, Beethoven aged 28)
written by Ben Hogwood
What’s the theme like?
The theme is taken from a trio in the opera by Soliman oder die drei Sultaninnen by Franz Xaver Süssmayr. A popular Austrian composer at the time of composition, Süssmayr is not a familiar name in the concert hall nowadays, except for his completion of Mozart’s Requiem.
Background and Critical Reception
This is pure, instinctive inspiration – and is quite stop-start as a result. Yet just as Beethoven has a lot of fun with these variations, so does his listener. The fourth variation is especially brilliant, the hands tumbling down the keyboard like a waterfall.
An elegant seventh variation, the one about which Hoffelé writes, leads to a run of trills, like the end of a cadenza, which look set to complete the set – until a twist in the tale appears in the form of a fugue, crisply executed in the form of a Bach invention.
Beethoven switches unexpectedly to D major near the end, yet this is wholly in keeping with the free running approach throughout this entertaining set.
Recordings used and Spotify links
Alfred Brendel (piano) (Vox)
Cécile Ousset (piano) (Eloquence)
Ronald Brautigam (fortepiano) (BIS)
Cécile Ousset is a model performer in these variations, with enviable dexterity and a good deal of humour. Ronald Brautigam enjoys the more brash, unscripted moments and the piece sounds great on the fortepiano. Brendel is excellent too.
Also written in 1799 Benjamin Carr Dead March and Monody
Next up 10 Variations on ‘La stessa, la stessissima’ WoO 73