Rondo a capriccio for piano (G major) op. 129
Truly angry and full of wrath: the 'rage over a lost penny'. Robert Schumann called it 'the most amiable, harmless anger, similar to that felt when one pulls a shoe from off the foot, and perspires and stamps while the shoe looks up phlegmatically at its owner'. This piece with the appealing title is one of Beethoven's most famous compositions – indeed, one of the most famous in the piano repertoire. Its popularity has even brought it immortality in the form of cell phone ringtones.
But no matter how amused we are by the ingenious musical programme, the title is not Beethoven's. Anger? Rage? Not at all! When he wrote the piece in 1795 he called it a 'Little Capriccio' and gave it the tempo mark 'Alla ingharese, quasi un capriccio'. 'Ingharese' is a misspelling of 'ongarese' – Hungarian – and thus fervent and bubbly, but without rage and without a penny.
The famous title, now found in all languages, was created by the publisher Anton Diabelli, whose partner C. A. Spina obtained the manuscript when Beethoven's belongings were auctioned off in November 1827. Diabelli completed the fragmentary work and published it in 1828. At the end of the first line he noted: 'This completed capriccio was found among Beethoven's effects and is called 'The Rage over a Lost Penny, Vented in a Capriccio'.' True, just such an inscription was added to the autograph – but not by Beethoven.
Nevertheless, Diabelli's title hit the nail on the head and has been accepted as the work's programme ever since. (J.R.)
Manuscript sources in other libraries
USA, New York: The Morgan Library
© Beethoven-Haus Bonn