Commemorative medal for Ludwig van Beethoven – Bronze medal from the Hungarian Ministry of Culture based on a design by József Reményi (picture courtesy of the Beethovenhaus, Bonn)
Bagatelle in C minor WoO 52 for piano (c1795-7, Beethoven aged 24-6)
Dedication not known
written by Ben Hogwood
Background and Critical Reception
A bagatelle that slipped through the net on Arcana’s Beethoven voyage! This one, which appears to have been finished between 1795 and 1797, is one of a series of such works completed in C minor. It was seemingly on the shortlist to be picked for the set of bagatelles Beethoven published as Op.119 in 1823.
Misha Donat, writing in his notes for the recording by Steven Osborne on Hyperion, suggests the movement was intended for inclusion as part of the Piano Sonata no.5 in C minor Op.10/1, but ‘discarded the scherzo-like piece because its tempo was too similar to that of the finale’. The piece was first published in 1888.
It is easy to see how this piece could be an out-take from the C minor sonata. It has the profile of a scherzo, with a repeated note motif that isn’t too dissimilar to that used in the forthcoming Symphony no.5. Although this ‘riff’ starts in the left hand it transfers to the right as well, and Beethoven enjoys playing with the syncopations it generates.
As a ‘trio’ section Beethoven moves into the major key, with a lighter touch and a warmer outlook to the music. It doesn’t last long, however – and we return to the dogged C minor material for a convincing finish.
Not exactly an easy Bagatelle to play, and much more a sonata fragment – but typically well constructed and memorable in its material.
Recordings used and Spotify playlist
Jenő Jandó (Naxos)
Mikhail Pletnev (DG)
Ronald Brautigam (BIS)
John Lill (Chandos)
Ronald Brautigam provides plenty of energy on his account, and there are tasteful versions from the other three pianists on the list – as well as Steven Osborne on Hyperion.
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 1797 Eberl 2 Sonatas for Keyboard four hands, Op.7
Next up Gedenke mein!, WoO 130