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Fantasia in G minor, Op 77

Allegro – Allegretto

During his earlier years, Beethoven’s powers of improvisation were legendary. As Czerny later recalled: 'His improvisation was most brilliant and striking. In whatever company he might chance to be, he knew how to produce such an effect upon every hearer that frequently not an eye remained dry, while many would break out into loud sobs; for there was something wonderful in his expression in addition to the beauty and originality of his ideas and his spirited style of rendering them. After ending an improvisation of this kind he would burst into loud laughter and mock his listeners for the emotion he had caused in them. ‘You are fools!’, he would say.'

Beethoven’s improvisatory style is reflected not only in the cadenzas he supplied for his own piano concertos and for Mozart’s famous D minor Concerto K466, but also in his free fantasias and smaller sets of variations. It was common practice in Beethoven’s day—as it had been in Mozart’s—for a composer skilled in the art of improvisation to include a demonstration of his powers when putting on a concert of his own music. On 22 December 1808 Beethoven presented a marathon programme in Vienna that contained not only the first performances of his Fifth and Sixth Symphonies and the Fourth Piano Concerto, but also a fantasia for piano solo, and—designed as the grand climax to the evening’s entertainment—a Fantasy for piano, soloists, chorus and orchestra. The last of these items, the ‘Choral’ Fantasy Op 80, itself began with a piano improvisation which Beethoven wrote down only after the event, when the piece was published; and perhaps he made use of the contents of the solo piano fantasia he had played earlier in the evening when he came to compose his Fantasy Op 77 the following year.

No piece of Beethoven affords a more vivid picture of what his improvisations must have been like than this one. Its first half presents a bewildering succession of musical fragments in contrasting moods, punctuated by rushing scales or arpeggios—almost as though the individual pages of music were being violently torn off. One of those fragments consists of a series of ‘sighing’ two-note phrases forming an expressive melody that is broken off before it can establish itself; another, of a simple folk-like tune that likewise disintegrates before our ears; and a third, of a stormy episode in the minor. The Fantasy’s latter half is a more orderly affair, consisting of a set of variations on a short theme in the luminous key of B major. The final variation introduces descending scale-fragments, so that the ensuing return of the scales from the Fantasy’s beginning draws the various threads of the piece together.

from notes by Misha Donat © 2018


Beethoven: Beethoven Unbound
Studio Master: SIGCD527Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available


Track 1 on SIGCD527 CD3 [9'37] Download only

Track-specific metadata for SIGCD527 disc 3 track 1

Recording date
25 February 2015
Recording venue
Wigmore Hall, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Judith Sherman
Recording engineer
Simon Vout
Hyperion usage
  1. Beethoven: Beethoven Unbound (SIGCD527)
    Disc 3 Track 1
    Release date: March 2018
    Download only
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