The first of these is a familiar piece, the so-called Easy Sonata in C, WoO 51. A few years ago, it was shown that this is not in fact a piano sonata (possibly with a movement missing, as some scholars had theorized), but two independent pieces written by Beethoven for the Orphica, an oddball instrument invented by Carl Leopold Röllig in 1795. The Orphica was a portable piano of sorts that had a brief period of popularity right at the end of the 18th century. According to a letter written by Beethoven’s friend Franz Gerhard Wegeler on December 23, 1827, Beethoven had written two small pieces for Wegeler’s wife to be played on her Orphica. These pieces are believed with some confidence to have been the ones that make up WoO 51. Barry Cooper has shown fairly conclusively that these two pieces date to September or October of 1797, which is consistent with the paper types used for WoO 51. On these CDs, Tobias Koch plays these two pieces WoO 51 on an genuine Orphica made circa 1805 from the Deutsche Museum, marking the first time that these pieces have been heard on the proper instrument in over 200 years. It’s an odd-sounding instrument that reminds the listener of a toy piano, but the simple textures of WoO 51 certainly seemed suited for it.
The second item of interest on this set of three CDs is an uncatalogued piano piece in F minor dating from 1826. This piece is found in the Kullak sketchbook, used by Beethoven in 1826, at f.51r and 52v, bearing the notation “Metrik des Deutscher von Voß.” It’s unclear what Beethoven means by this, or who the Voss is that he’s referring to. Possibly he’s referencing a piece in one of the Musenalmanach volumes of verse edited by Johann Heinrich Voss, which sometimes included music as well. There was also a German piano virtuoso named Karl Voss (1815-1882), but he would have been only ten or eleven years of age in 1826, which makes it seem unlikely that Beethoven is referring to him. In any event, this is a brief piece running just under a minute but it’s certainly of interest and a lively little bit of very, very late Beethoven. Koch plays this piece on a period piano (not the Orphica).
The CD set of ‘Complete Piano Pieces’ is available here.
For those preferring downloads, the mp3 version of the CD Complete Piano Pieces [+digital booklet] is available here
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