Practising, Repertoire

How to play…… Beethoven – Rondo from Sonatina in F, Anh 5

This carefree ‘Rondo’ is an excellent introduction to the piano music of Beethoven for the intermediate student, offering a taster of what wonders and variety there is to enjoy and explore in his Piano Sonatas. Composed c1785, the Sonatina in F, Anh 5 is in two movements, and displays many of the style traits present in his more mature works.

The movement is in Rondo form, and the first thing I do when teaching this piece, is to ask the student to identify the rondo theme, and flag up wherever it appears later on in the music. We call it [A]. We then look for other themes and motifs – each new motif has a new letter (B, C, D etc) – to see how Rondo form is structured.

The score can appear daunting to the student who has been used to playing pieces of just a page, but a quick study of the score reveals that once the first appearance of the Rondo Theme is learnt, each reappearance of it can also be considered “learnt”, thus shrinking the piece considerably! I usually suggest some “listening homework” in the form of Beethoven’s Rondo a Capriccio in G, op 129, the famous ‘Rage Over a Lost Penny,’ where the contrasting Rondo sections can be clearly heard.

The effectiveness of this movement comes from Beethoven’s very clearly defined changes in articulation (staccato, legato etc) and dynamics, as well as the modulation into D minor (the relative minor of F major) at bar 37, and textural changes (the semi-quaver passages in the B section, bars 17-29, and the legato and drop slurs in the D minor section).

It is helpful to think of this piece in “orchestral terms” and to imagine which instruments of the orchestra might be playing at certain points in the music. For example, the opening 4 bars, marked piano, suggest an oboe or clarinet in the right hand, with a bassoon in the left. Be careful to observe the staccato markings exactly as written through these bars (and wherever this motif appears): the slur from C sharp to D adds a certain wit and humour. A neat turn (which should be kept as light as possible) leads into a forte section, suggesting the full orchestra (“tutti”), but be careful not to over-emphasise the bass notes through here. Again, observe the slurs and staccato as written, lifting off the staccato quavers. Students with a sufficient hand stretch can attempt to play the arpeggiated chord with “finger pedal” (spreading the chord but holding all the notes down), or a with a little direct pedal. A brief fermata here prepares us for the “bridge”, a little scalic pattern leading back into the Rondo theme. This needs to be played to indicate that it is connected to the Rondo theme, rather than an after-thought to what has just been played.

The left hand part of the A section offers an excellent opportunity to learn about the Alberti Bass, and a degree of rotary movement is useful through here to keep the left hand quavers from dominating. When working on this section, I ask students to play the upper notes of this figure, so that they can hear the simple melody embedded in there (a trick I learnt while working on Beethoven’s more sedate and elegant Rondo in C Op 51, no. 1). This allows some shaping within this Alberti Bass figure.

The B section, after the double bar, is busy with semiquavers, which require a light touch and some lateral arm movement to keep them fluent and prevent them sounding too “notey”. The notes actually sit comfortably under the fingers, so long as a good fingering scheme is learnt at the outset. Don’t be tempted to start the crescendo (from bar 21) too soon to achieve the full impact of the forte passage (bars 25-26), and don’t push the right hand. The chromatic scale (bars 27-28) is the next bridge back to the Rondo theme and there is scope for a fractional rit. through here, to increase the dramatic effect.

The C section is more lyrical and romantic. Be careful to achieve the right balance between the hands (use the same technique for the Alberti Bass as in the Rondo theme) and don’t be tempted to thrash that accents (think more emphasis rather than a “shout”). Observe the drop slurs in bars 46-47 – the fingering is there to help achieve the desired “drop-float” effect.

After the double bar at bar 67 is another bridging section, which has the sense of improvisation (a common device in music from this period). Again, be sure to observe the slurs in the left hand broken chords, and the rests. Enjoy the grand fermata (pause) at bar 71, and treat the “ad libitum” (which literally means “freedom to improvise”) as a mini cadenza (i.e. allow some tempo rubato through here). The ornaments in bar 74 turn this run into two groups of four semiquavers, which should be played as drop slurs.

The Rondo theme returns at bar 75, with a restatement of the exuberance and fun of the opening: enjoy the contrast with the preceding material.

Find the complete score at IMSLP

Further listening:

Beethoven – Rondo A Capriccio In G Major, Op. 129, “Rage Over A Lost Penny”

Beethoven – Rondo in C, Op.51, No.1

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