Beethoven composed two sets of variations on themes from Paisiello's La molinara. The first of these is the Variations for piano in A major on "Quant' e piu bello," WoO. 69, composed in 1795 and published the same year by Traeg in Vienna. Beethoven dedicated them to Prince Karl Lichnowsky (1756-1814), one of the composer's most important patrons in Vienna. The second set, the Variations for piano in G major on the duet "Nel cor piu non mi sento," was also composed in 1795 but published in 1796 by Traeg. Unlike the WoO. 69 Variations, the Variations in G major, WoO. 70, bear no dedication.
Paisiello's theme features a somewhat unusual structure. A six-measure segment is followed by one of eight measures that rises to a high A natural on the second beat and stops. Another eight-measure segment ends the same way before a tiny two-measure quote from the center of the theme closes the whole idea. Aside from adding a pickup to the first measure, Beethoven adheres to this structure throughout each variation but the last, which boasts a coda-like extension.
In the first variation, Beethoven fills in the gaps in the theme with an incessant triplet motion. Some of the original repeated notes become trill-like figures in the second variation, in which the theme is raised by an octave in places. In the third variation Beethoven smoothes out Paisiello's peaks at the center and near the end of the theme through a slow descent encompassing several measures. The obligatory minor variation occupies the fourth spot; the new mode, a fluid tracing of the theme and numerous chromatic inflections in the melody make this the most appealing of the nine variations. The original quarter notes become eighths and sixteenths become quarters in the fifth variation, in which Beethoven again narrows the range of the melody by eliminating its highest notes. These high points return, however, in the sixth and seventh variations, and are firmly emphasized. After the somewhat imitative texture of the eight variation, Beethoven changes from 2/4 to 3/4 meter for the final variation, once again narrowing the range of the tune before filling the coda with a plethora of very high pitches as if to replace all those he left out along the way.
Beethoven wrote many sets of variations based on themes in popular operas of his day. Most of these efforts came in the early part of his career and include Thirteen Variations for Piano in A major on Dittersdorf's Es war einmal ein alter Mann, WoO 66, Twenty-four Variations on Righini's Arietta "Vieni Amore", WoO 65, Eight Variations for Piano in F major on Sussmayer's "Tandeln und Scherzen", WoO 76, and several others. In this work, based Paisiello's Quant e Piu Bello, he presents a set of variations that can stand with his better efforts in the genre.
The main theme here, a jovial but slightly stiff invention, is rather direct and simple in a charming way, but also borders on the trite, with parts of it repeating almost as if to hammer home its thematic appeal. Beethoven uses an interesting scheme in his approach to the variations: as though recognizing the simplicity and innocence of the melody as his starting point, he begins gradually with each variation to show greater complexity, transforming the material from its rather childlike demeanor into a musical adulthood. The results are most engaging and, as with many of his variation works, the last several are the most brilliant.
This work was dedicated to Prince Karl Lichnowsky and first published in Vienna in 1795. A typical performance of it lasts from five to six minutes.
(All Music Guide)