The Portaits of Giovanni Paisiello (left) and the young Beethoven
6 Variations on ‘Nel cor piu non mi sento’ WoO 70 for piano (1795, Beethoven aged 24)
Dedication not known
What’s the theme like?
Paisiello’s theme has a nice lilt to it, with a softly undulating accompaniment set in the left hand of the piano. The mood is amiable, set in G major. Beethoven pauses deliberately near the end, creating some very valid, stage-derived tension!
Background and Critical Reception
Beethoven operated with a remarkably quick turnaround for these variations, which explains their instinctive feel. Barry Cooper, writing in the booklet notes for DG’s Complete Beethoven Edition, tells of how ‘a lady whom he greatly admired once told him she used to own a set of variations on this theme but had lost them’. Beethoven ‘promptly composed his set for her and delivered them the next morning! He could, when necessary, compose extremely fast despite his reputation as a slow and painstaking worker’.
The six variations have an easy flow, the left and right hands often exchanging their melodic lines to keep things on the move. Beethoven’s first three variations move along effortlessly, before a slightly sorrowful fourth in the minor key, where the pronounced pause is really evident. Throughout the emphasis is on a vocal line, staying true to the context of Paisiello’s original.
As he often does Beethoven provides a direct contrast immediately after this, with an effervescent fifth variation and similarly bright sixth. The stream of consciousness, which works as a whole rather than six parts, is wrapped up very quickly.
Recordings used and Spotify links
Pletnev takes these variations at quite a lick, showing off his technical prowess but occasionally constricting the phrasing. Buchbinder and Ousset feel more natural in this respect, and again it is Ousset who has the most natural application, staying true to the theme’s origins as a vocal melody.
Also written in 1795 Hummel Piano Sonata no.8
Next up Variations on ‘Ich hab ein kleines Hüttchen nur’