Listening to Beethoven #203 – Prelude in F minor WoO 55

Commemorative medal for the unveiling of the Beethoven monument in Vienna – bronze medal based on a design by Anton Scharff depicting the Beethoven sculpture by Caspar von Zumbusch

Prelude in F minor WoO 55 for piano (1803, Beethoven aged 32)

Dedication not known
Duration 3′

Listen

written by Ben Hogwood

Background and Critical Reception

Roeland Hazendonk, writing booklet notes for the recording made by Ronald Brautigam for BIS, describes this piece as ‘an almost perfect pastiche of a prelude by Bach’, drawing attention to its similarity with the Prelude in the same key from the first book of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier.

Thoughts

If you heard this piece without knowing, your first guess at a composer would surely not be Beethoven, for this is a piece of incredibly accurate pastiche. It is remarkably similar in both mood and profile to the F minor prelude of Bach referred to above, yet it is clearly not a copy as you will hear by comparing the two:

Beethoven starts the Prelude confidently, and it evolves naturally in a series of arpeggios that pass instinctively between the hands. For much of the piece he keeps the tonality close to F minor, though the central section starts wandering towards further flung keys. It all comes back together for a poised conclusion.

Perhaps this was a study for one of Beethoven’s teachers at the time, but it expresses his knowledge and love of Bach better than words could possibly manage!

Recordings used and Spotify playlist

Jenő Jandó (Naxos)
Olli Mustonen (Sony BMG)
Ronald Brautigam (BIS)

Gianluca Cascioli adopts a slow and steady tempo, but gives great feeling to his performance. Ronald Brautigam is much quicker but still allows the notes to breathe, pausing at strategic points in the music to give the phrasing a natural structure.

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

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