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Variation 3

Variation 3

Diabelli score Var 3


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, and as in the theme they are repeated in the 5th measure. In the 2nd half of the variation however they are repeated, canon-like, in all of the first few measures. The effect is one of acceleration towards something climactic, but instead what follows is a remarkable departure from the original harmonic structure. Here Beethoven replaces the C tonality with a diminished seventh chord built on Db, and all harmonic motion pauses while the little 3 note turn figure is repeated 8 times in the left hand. In his original scheme (where this would have been the first variation), Beethoven is announcing right up front that he will not be bound by the limitations of Diabelli’s theme, and further that this Db diminished chord will play an important part in later variations.

Also noteworthy is the way the rosalia passages are harmonically enhanced beyond anything that poor old Diabelli could ever have imagined! This whole variation is written out in four-part harmony, and Beethoven’s use of this idiom has often reminded me of his string and vocal quartet writing. His later piano music frequently uses this technique.

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