Description by John Palmer
Opinions differ on the date of composition for Mendelssohn's Rondo capriccioso, Op. 14. Some suggest he composed the work in 1824; if this is the case, it is the most advanced work he had composed at the time. Also, publication dates of both 1827 and 1830 dot the literature. The most recent research shows that the Rondo capriccioso was finished by 1828, but lacked the introductory Andante section. Two years later Mendelssohn revised the piece, possibly as a gift for Delphine von Schauroth, a pianist from Munich. The autograph of this version, dated June 13, 1830, includes both the Andante and Presto. The piece is still popular among pianists, in part because it sounds more difficult to play than it actually is.
The Rondo capriccioso is in two parts: an Andante in 4/4 meter and E major, and a Presto in 6/8 meter and E minor. In subsequent works, such as the Capriccio in E minor and the Andante cantabile and Presto agitato, Mendelssohn uses this same format. The piece also presages Mendelssohn's linking of slow movements to fast finales in the Capriccio brilliant, Op. 22, and the Serenade und Allegro giocoso, Op. 43. The progression from major to minor also occurs in the "Italian" symphony.
In their tendency to descend through the tonic triad, the themes of the two movements are related. The cantabile setting of the Andante, with repeated chords in the left hand and an initially arching melody in the right, is very song-like. This passes quickly, though, as the tune becomes increasingly embellished, culminating in plunging octaves, played fortissimo. The texture quickly thins as rising scales introduce the Rondo, marked Presto. Some have found in the opening of the minor-mode Andante section a hint of Weber, but the rhythmic drive of the melody, gradually increasing in speed, and its beginning on the third beat, are pure Mendelssohn.
The Presto has all the lilt and fire of the Overture to a Midsummer Night's Dream. The B theme is not very original, but the Rondo passages are electrifying. Flashy arpeggios act as links between sections, one of which, at the center of the movement, is in E major and presents rhythmic fragments of the Rondo theme in developmental fashion. After a transposed reprise of the G major episode, resolving it to the tonic, the key shifts back to E minor for the final appearance of the Rondo theme and a raucous closing passage.