I’m just going to come out and say it: EVERYBODY loves Beethoven. Even people who don’t like Beethoven love Beethoven (Hum the first few notes of Ode To Joy. See??). His wild genius left a legacy of vibrantly epic proportions. I could prattle on, fellow Revelers, about his Seventh Symphony (oh wait, I already did that) or the lustrous thunder of his Sonata No. 23 in Fm (“Appassionata”) or how his Overture To Egmont was written to insult Napoleon. I could indulge in bloviating about how, in grade school, a few friends and I loved to plunk out Für Elise on someone’s grandmother’s benignly out-of-tune piano or when I sang his Choral Fantasy I thought my heart would vacate my chest. But I digress.
Beethoven composed Rondo a capriccio (“Rage Over A Lost Penny”) in 1795, when he was 25. But it remained undiscovered until an auction of his personal effects was held after his death in 1827. Although there was no indication that the work was incomplete, it is said that Beethoven’s publisher Anton Diabelli “finished” the Rondo before publishing it in 1828. “Finished”, perhaps- “rearranged” more likely. In 1949, musicologist Erich Hertzmann prepared a new edition. The subtitle “Rage Over A Lost Penny” had been added by Beethoven’s friend Anton Schindler, although for what reason I’ll never know. I like to think it really was because of a rebellious penny, rolling into the cracks of the floor in Beethoven’s rattling Viennese apartment. Oh, would that all the world’s rage could be channeled into brilliant composing!
I first heard this piece on WQXR eons ago, and I never forgot it. How could you? It is played at lightning speed and the notes absolutely glitter. It’s wonderfully rhythmic and captivating, spilling all over the keyboard and back again. I love when the right-hand notes start to get dissonant. About three minutes in, the piece goes to half-meter and then teeters between crescendoing arpeggios and rapidfire scales and, as classical music experts say, “a bunch of other stuff” before veering back to the primary theme. Watching the prodigious Evgeny Kissin perform it has the added bonus of Kissin actually looking like Beethoven. Must be the wild hair and brilliance. Treat your ears to this, the most beautiful of rages, from the revolutionary from Bonn.