Listening to Beethoven #125 – Piano Sonata in C major WoO 51


An Orphica by Joseph Dohnal (Kunsthistorisches Museum)

Piano Sonata in C major WoO 51 (1791-98, Beethoven aged 26)

Dedication Eleonore von Breuning
Duration 7′

1. Allegro
2. Adagio

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

There are conflicting reports on the origins of this short piano sonata. Some scholars suggest the work was begun in 1791, with Beethoven still in Bonn – while others interpret correspondence to mean the composer was writing for the orphica, a small keyboard instrument like the clavichord that was in use at the time.

This would date the work to 1794 at the earliest, with more correspondence mentioning Eleonore von Breuning that suggested it was intended for her. There are two completed movements, making the sonata similar in design to the two works of Op.49. The second was finished by Beethoven’s friend Ferdinand Ries, and published posthumously in 1830.

Thoughts

The dimensions of this piece may be similar to the Op.49, but so is the musical style. The fact the composition spans several years suggests Beethoven was sufficiently attached to the music to want to see it through to the end, and listening to the work confirms his instincts were strong.

The first movement begins with an attractive flourish, and the right hand is allowed to run free. The open textures and movement between the hands face back towards the Baroque rather than forwards, but Beethoven’s use of unusual keys in the development of the main theme are a sign he was still subtly innovating.

The second movement, in F major, is a tender Adagio that has no need to hurry, and subsides to a gentle conclusion, a nicely poised aria in all but name.

Recordings used

Jenő Jandó (Naxos)
Ronald Brautigam (BIS)

Spotify links

Jenő Jandó

Ronald Brautigam

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 1798 Koželuch Sinfonia Concertante in E flat major

Next up 8 Variations on ‘Une fièvre brûlante’ WoO 72

Listening to Beethoven #55 – Rondo in G major for piano and violin

Still life by Viennese artist Johann Baptist Drechsler, 1789

Rondo in G major WoO41 for piano and violin (1794, Beethoven aged 23)

Dedication Elenore von Breuning
Duration 5′

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

Variations and rondos were part of Beethoven’s development as a composer, and this short piece for piano and violin is another example of the composer’s development in the ‘rondo’ form. Traditionally this would involve a main theme (‘A’), a secondary one (‘B’) and a contrasting third section in the middle (‘C’).

Writing in the booklet of the Deutsche Grammophon recording by Wilhelm Kempff and Yehudi Menuhin, Bernhard Uske notes how in writing rondos Beethoven ‘absorbed the pattern of the ‘rondello’ from Italian folk music with its broad appeal into the process of variational development.’

Technically the piece is straightforward, indicating a design for domestic use – and Beethoven thought enough of it to dedicate it to his dear Bonn friend Eleonore von Breuning, along with the Variations on Mozart’s Se Vuol Ballare

Thoughts

The Rondo is easy on the ear. A nice, limpid piano introduction presents the theme, which has a straightforward profile but becomes more memorable with its repetitions in the rondo structure. The violin takes over, and the two instruments are closer together to present the second theme.

The central section (the ‘C’ of the rondo’s A – B – A – C – A – B – A) moves to G minor for a simple triple-time waltz, where a slight shadow falls over the music. It does not last, however, the ‘A’ theme returning to leave us in its warm glow.

Recordings used

Wilhelm Kempff (piano), Yehudi Menuhin (violin) (Deutsche Grammophon)
James Lisney (piano), Paul Barritt (violin) (Woodhouse Editions / Regent)

Paul Barritt and James Lisney present quite a nippy account of the Rondo, nicely dovetailed and brightly voiced. Wilhelm Kempff and Yehudi Menuhin proceed at a much more leisurely pace, taking nearly two minutes longer but playing gracefully and evoking a triple-time dance.

Spotify links

Wilhelm Kempff, Yehudi Menuhin

Also written in 1794 Benjamin Carr The Federal Overture

Next up String Trio in E flat major Op.3