During his first couple of years in Vienna, Beethoven was so absorbed in the social world—making contacts, giving lessons to aristocrats, attending the opera—that he wrote very little music, and what he produced was not especially significant. At one point, the noblewoman whose guest he was asked him to write some keyboard variations on tunes from Giovanni Paisiello's new opera, La Molinara. Beethoven apparently cranked them out overnight; they are technically simple, can be played in about five minutes, and get by on charm rather than profundity. The theme is from the opera's main duet, a hummable if repetitive tune that takes no surprising turns. Beethoven sets out the theme, then launches a variation full of rapid right-hand runs. The theme then appears in the treble while the left hand takes up the busywork. Next comes a burbling treatment that breaks the theme's phrases into little gestures like a brook splashing over rocks. A more serious, slow elaboration follows in a minor mode, but the main tune then returns in simple form in the left hand, with the treble producing a great deal of filigree. A bustling treatment comes next, but it eases off into a quiet ending.
(All Music Guide)