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Diabelli Variations

Diabelli’s Waltz

http://nhpianos.com/images/2016/04/Diabelli-Theme.mp3

It was probably nearly 40 years ago that I first encountered the Diabelli Variations. Although his most famous work in this genre, they were not the first I heard and it was another couple of decades before I listened to them critically. I do however remember what […]

Diabelli - Variation 1

The March

http://nhpianos.com/images/2016/04/Diabelli-Var-I.mp3

 

Beethoven immediately switches from the 3/4 waltz rhythm to 4/4 – an unusual step that makes it crystal clear that he will not be beholden to Diabelli’s intentions. While he began composing these variations in 1819, he had only completed 23 of the final 33 before […]

Diabelli - Variation 2

Variation 2

http://nhpianos.com/images/2016/04/Diabelli-Var-II.mp3

Back in 3/4 time, this variation retains the repeated C and G chords from the theme, now syncopated between the left and right hands. According to William Kinderman’s highly detailed study tracing the composition the variations through Beethoven’s sketchbooks, this was one of the last to be completed. The […]

Variation 3

Variation 3

http://nhpianos.com/images/2016/04/Diabelli-Var-III.mp3

 

This was originally 1st variation, before Beethoven added what became variations 1 and 2. It is much more melodic than either of the preceding variations, or indeed of the theme itself. The opening three notes are themselves a sort of variation of the turn that begins the theme, […]

Diabelli - Variation 4

http://nhpianos.com/images/2016/04/Diabelli-Var-IV.mp3

 

Whereas the theme featured falling 4ths and 5ths, this variation is built around the rising 4ths and 5ths as a canon in descending octaves. Although it begins dolce, at bar 5 it begins a crescendo that races towards two hammer blows at the end of each half.

The first phrase of the […]

Diabelli - Variation 5

http://nhpianos.com/images/2016/05/Diabelli-Var-V.mp3

The motion of each variation has been increasing steadily. Here the turn from the theme’s upbeat is replaced by a pair of repeated notes, but the turn makes a subtle reappearance (in augmented form) in the right hand in bars 4 and 5 while the left hand plays a version of the rosalia’s […]

Diabelli - Variation 6

http://nhpianos.com/images/2016/05/Diabelli-Var-VI.mp3

Beethoven loved trills, especially in his later piano music. As a whole though, these Variations are largely lacking in trills, but not this one! Here, a trill replaces the initial turn, and trills follow in almost every measure. Although Beethoven marks this variation serioso, I find it hard to take very seriously. Brendel […]

Diabelli - Variation 7

http://nhpianos.com/images/2016/05/Diabelli-Var-VII.mp3

The last several variations have been building to a virtuosic climax, and here it is. Widely separated bass octaves alternating forte and piano with treble triplets (almost at the extremes of Beethoven’s keyboard) race headlong towards the ending. Note the descending third in the bass at the beginning, echoed at the beginning of […]

Diabelli - Variation 8

http://nhpianos.com/images/2016/05/Diabelli-Var-VIII.mp3

This is one of my favorites and the second that I learned, long before I tackled the whole set. I was first drawn to it after hearing back to back recordings of it on the Deutsche Grammophon “Great Pianists” sampler disc by Artur Schnabel and Maria Yudina, and being intrigued by these two […]

Diabelli - Variation 9

http://nhpianos.com/images/2016/05/Diabelli-Var-IX.mp3

 

Variations 9 – 11: “Turning” the ridiculous into the sublime, part one.

Up until this point, Beethoven has already had some fun at Diabelli’s expense. From the very beginning he seems almost to mock the whole enterprise by trading in the “waltz” for a march. He consistently (and insistently) draws attention to […]