Top Five Beethoven Variations on Someone Else's Theme

Friday, October 28, 2011

Composers down through the ages have latched onto each other's melodies, and turned them into whole new compositions. In Beethoven's day, variations on a popular tune -- especially one from a favorite opera or oratorio -- sold well to the burgeoning home music-making market.

The Diabelli Variations began with a solicitation from publisher Anton Diabelli, who was trying to raise money for families of men killed in the Napoleonic Wars. Diabelli sent a waltz he'd written to dozens of composers, asking each of them to write a variation for a set to be published and sold for the cause. At first, Beethoven wasn't thrilled by the idea, but he did contribute a variation to Diabelli's collection. Eventually, Beethoven sat down and wrote 33 variations on Diabelli's simple waltz; the Diabelli Variations are now considered one of his piano masterpieces.

1. 33 variations on a waltz by Diabelli in C major (Diabelli Variations)

2. 12 Variations for cello and piano in G major on Handel's "See, the Conqu'ring Hero comes" (from Judas Maccabeus)

3. 7 Variations for cello & piano in E-flat major on Mozart's "Bei Männern" (from The Magic Flute)

4. 7 Variations for piano on "God Save the King"

5. 5 Variations for piano on "Rule Britannia"


Bonus more obscure set of variations:

Variations for two oboes and English horn on "Là ci darem la mano" from Mozart's opera Don Giovanni

Bonus set of variations on Beethoven's own great theme:

15 Variations and a Fugue in E-flat major on an Original Theme ("Eroica Variations")

Below: Alfred Brendel plays the Seven Variations on "God Save the King"


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