Ludwig van Beethoven

Fantasia for piano in G minor, Op. 77

    Description by John Palmer

    Completed in October, 1809, the Fantasia for Piano in G minor, Op. 77, was commissioned by Muzio Clementi (1752-1832), whose London publishing firm printed the work in 1810. The piece is dedicated to Count Franz Brunsvik (1777-1849), a capable cellist. Beethoven, always trying to maximize his income, also sold the publication rights to the Fantasy to Breitkopf & Härtel in Leipzig, whose edition appeared in November, 1810, only two months after Clementi's in England. That Beethoven composed this flight of fancy when he did is somewhat ironic, for he was attempting, for the first time in his life, to settle down, live without hotels and restaurants and to establish a real "home" where he would sleep and eat his meals.

    Carl Czerny (1791-1857), a composer who studied piano with Beethoven in 1801-3, described the Fantasy, Op. 77 as variations "in a mixed form, one idea following another as in a potpourri, ... " Possibly no other work reflects Beethoven's tendency toward improvisation. Czerny's assessment is apt. The Fantasy passes through eight key areas, three changes of meter and numerous changes in tempo. What is most curious is that the piece, mostly a string of seemingly unrelated vignettes, closes with a self-contained section a half step higher than the fundamental key at the opening of the piece. One senses an anticipation of relaxed Romantic-era fluidity and freedom.

    Rapid descending scales and drastic tempo changes mark the introduction, which hovers around the keys of G minor and A flat major before committing to the dominant of B flat major, the key of the ensuing section. Marked Allegro and in 6/8 meter, the new segment is the first to have a real theme, but it quickly dissolves and modulates to D minor for the first of what seems as much a finger exercise as new theme, this time stressing arpeggios. D minor continues through the next idea, in 2/4 and featuring a theme outlined by broken octaves alternating between the hands--one of a pianist's nightmares. This section ends abruptly and, with one chord, moves to A flat major for the next idea, marked Adagio and with a repeated-note theme over changing harmonies. A loud, Presto bridge introduces new material in D major, propelled along by the 6/8 meter. This section consist of two ideas, the first a theme played in block chords in the right hand, the second consisting of running eighth notes in both hands, the theme from the first part played by the little fingers of each hand. Suddenly, the Adagio repeated-note theme returns, but on the dominant of B major, preparing the arrival of the self-contained, variation-like section that will close the piece.

    The new Allegretto theme resembles the repeated-note Adagio theme, but is more active. It is followed immediately by a frantic idea broken between the hands but eventually smoothes out into another exercise-like figure. Broken octaves return in this quasi-developmental passage, in the middle of which the Allegretto theme appears deep in the bass then in repeated chords in the right hand over a leaping, diving bass line. After a few rapid flourishes, the Allegretto theme sounds in its original form, but in C major, a key that lasts only a few measures before B major takes over and the piece closes.

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2018 Signum Classics SIGCD 527
    2017 Champs Hill Records CHRCD 131
    2017 Onyx Classics ONYX 4172
    2016 Dux Records DUX 1231
    2015 Avi / CAvi-music AVI 8553321
    2015 Alpha Alpha 201
    2014 BIS BIS 1892
    2013 Brilliant Classics 94630
    2013 MSR Classics MS 1446
    2013 Onyx 4094
    2011 Brilliant Classics 94052
    2011 Denon Records
    2011 Denon Records
    2010 EMI Classics 6483092
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon 447 766-2GH
    2010 Divine Art dda25086
    2009 Document / Documents 223051
    2008 Avi 8553088
    2007 Brilliant Classics 93525
    2007 Cascade Records 2200
    2007 IDIS / Ital Disc IDIS 6514
    2005 Real Sound (RS) 83
    2004 EMI Classics 85894
    2004 Sony Music Distribution 512866
    2003 Harmonia Mundi 901801
    2003 Virgin 62242
    2003 Cascavelle 3055
    2002 Brilliant 205211
    2001 Music & Arts CD1080/6
    2001 Vox Box 3601
    2000 Meridian Records 84342
    2000 EtCetera Records 1018
    1999 The Piano Library 199/200
    1999 Arkadia 78567
    1999 Music & Arts 880
    1999 Pearl 9139
    1997 Deutsche Grammophon 453 733-2GCB8
    1995 Orfeo 270921
    1992 Sony Music Distribution 47666
    Dante 107120
    Teldec
    Forlane 16678
    Classical Records 058
    Naxos 553798
    Cascade Records 2210
    Teldec
    Pro-Arte Records 176
    Tuxedo Music 1060
    Brilliant 93525/59
    Music & Arts 734
    Tuxedo Music 9001
    Document 935/36
    Brilliant 205216