1830: Mendelssohn: Rondo Capriccioso

FRIDAY, January 15, 2021 – 9:33 AM

Mendelssohn: Rondo Capriccioso, age 21

No one is quite sure when Felix Mendelssohn composed the Rondo Capriccioso, with some musicologists suggesting he wrote it as early as 1824 when he was 15 years old.

Mendelssohn put the date of June 13, 1830 on the revision, so we do know that by age 21 he finished it and possibly revised it. Mendelssohn is easily the most frightening musical prodigy in musical history of the last several centuries.

Claudio Arrau

The recording is downright primitive, but this is Arrau at his absolute technical zenith, and he has little of the shoulder and neck tension that he eventually showed as a old pianist. Most amazing is that here he is around 50 years old, still young for a top pianist, but already he plays with the thoughtfulness and introversion that made his playing unique. You will experience another pianist playing with this astonishing combination of virtuosity and otherworldly imagination. This would be my pick of all the performances I’ve heard, and it’s very nearly perfect technically even though it’s live.

Claudio Arrau again

There is nothing to see here, and it’s apparently a later recording. The piano is very slightly out of tune, but the recording is better. The same variety, contrast, sensitivity and fire is here. I’ve heard many people play this piece, and for me Arrau is the best. The number of times I’ve picked Arrau as the best of all players in a number of compositions escapes me, but it happens a lot. This man was truly a “pianists’ pianist” because he had a stunning technique in his prime, but you never heard virtuosity at the expense of lyricism and contemplation. I don’t know when this recording was made..

Murray Perahia

Perahia is another intensely musical pianist and was very close to Horowitz. This also starts very slowly and very lyrically. This a very fine recording and so very pleasant to listen to. You will hear more perfection in modern recordings because of both the improvement in technology and editing techniques that virtually remove all mistakes, but don’t conclude from that modern players play more perfectly in performance, where all sorts of odd things still do wrong.

Enzo Oliva

This is highly inflected, very personal and rather challenging in that he plays this very differently. What is frightening to me is how many pianists there are now with stunning technical mastery that I don’t even know by name or reputation. As our knowledge of the body works and how to make it all work continues to increase. This is not the most technically perfect live performance, but it’s close enough to convince me.

Alicia de Larrocha

She was a tiny little lady, barely five feet tall, but her playing sounds like she was around seven feet tall. I prefer the first part a bit slower, with more contemplation, but the fast part has never been played with more clarity, and the ending great. There seems to be something about small women in terms of accuracy and stunning finger technique, because Yuja Wang is very similar.

The Rondo Capriccioso is in two sections

But the first part was added later, so from this we know that the idea that Mendelssohn wrote this at the age of 15 is a best misleading.

Andante In E Major

Modern research has shown that this section was added to the original etude in E minor during the revision of 1830. It begins softly, and the melody has the style of his “Songs Without Words” a type of piano piece that was one of Mendelssohn’s specialties. It lyrically leads to a segue to the next section.

Presto In E Minor

Material from the opening section returns briefly, and the music shifts to E minor for an ending in thundering alternating octaves. The entire piece remains tremendously popular to this very minute.

3 thoughts on “1830: Mendelssohn: Rondo Capriccioso

  1. I enjoyed listening to this wonderful music. Lots of variation in dynamics and tempo. It starts out slow and sweet. The ending is the complete opposite, loud and energetic.

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