Bagatelle in C major WoO 54, ‘Lustig-Traurig’ for piano (1802, Beethoven aged 31)
Dedication not known
written by Ben Hogwood
Background and Critical Reception
Around his major compositions we will continue to find Beethoven’s miniatures. This piece, whose nickname translates as ‘happy-sad’, is thought by some to have originated in 1798 – and appears to have just missed out on inclusion in the Op.33 set published earlier in the year.
Perhaps because of its size, this piece is glossed over by Beethoven commentators in favour of its more substantial companions. It appears to have been written for pianists of moderate ability, as with many of the bagatelles.
The happy-sad elements of this bagatelle are all told through harmony. This short character piece follows the profile of its title – switching mood between happy (C major) and sad (C minor). It’s a little doubtful if the C minor is actually sad, as it sounds more agitated, and the C major sounds happy in a slightly wary way we might associate more with Schubert.
Yet here is an aspect of Beethoven’s genius, the ability to write for all levels – be it the advanced player or the occasional one – and leave each a memorable work, a catchy tune, an enjoyable piece to return to.
Recordings used and Spotify playlist
Jenő Jandó (Naxos)
Olli Mustonen (Sony BMG)
Ronald Brautigam (BIS)
Three very different recordings. Olli Mustonen always has an individual take and this longer, stretched version is no exception. Brautigam is brisk, and Jandó nicely measured.
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 1802 Reichardt Das Zauberschloss
Next up 6 Ländler WoO15