BEETHOVEN'S PIANO VARIATIONS
FROM HIS EARLY VIENNA YEARS




View of Vienna in Beethoven's Time
 



"There was a ready market for piano variations among Vienna's multitude of pianists and piano students.  Beethoven wrote more than a dozen sets of variations for piano . . . between 1793 and 1801.  Each of them was promptly published, usually within a few months of its composition.  They were for the most part skilfully wrought sets of ornamental variations on themes from popular or familiar operas--entertaining, brilliant, and deliberately superficial, although few are without beautiful moments. . . . " (Solomon: 98),

is what Solomon writes about these variations.  Let us follow the traces of their composition during Beethoven's first decade in Vienna:  


VARIATIONS ON THE 'MENUET A LA VIGANO'
FROM HAIBEL'S 'LE NOZZE DISTURBATE', IN C-MAJOR, WoO 68 

 

Since first traces to this work will lead us to the year 1795, with respect to Beethoven's general life circumstances during this time, we can refer you to the appropriate section of our Biographical Pages.  From this section we know that in the spring of 1795, Beethoven had concluded his studies with Albrechtsberger and that he performed in public as piano virtuoso, for the first time.   

Thayer-Forbes (p. 176) leads us to the first trace of these three variations that were composed in 1795.  The standard biography reports that on May 18, 1975, Haibel's ballet 'Le nozze disturbate' was performed at Schikaneder's theatre, for the first time.   From it, Beethoven selected the "Menuet a la Vigano" in order to write variations to it.  

Thayer-Forbes (p. 182) further reports that we should imagine Beethoven occupied with their last corrections in early winter, 1796, since they were announced by the Wiener Zeitiung within the next two months and since (see Thayer-Forbes, p. 176) these twelve variations were presented as having been published on February 27, 1796.  

Thayer-Forbes (p. 178) also includes this work in his listing of works written between 1793 and 1795 and, with respect to its publication (p. 202) further reports that it was arranged by Artaria.  

Hans Schmidt reports that the theme

"gleich eine ganze Reihe bekannter Wiener „Variationenschmiede“ auf den Plan gerufen hatte, worunter sich auch J. Gelinek befand" (Schmidt writes here that the theme prompted a number of Viennese variation composers to write variations on it, among them also J. Gelinek).

 



Abbé Gelinek

 

Of Beethoven's Variations from 1795, Cooper (p. 59) writes that they might have been commissioned by various pianists.   

With respect to the musical character of WoO 68, Hans Schmidt writes:   

"In den 12 Variationen ist vor allem die durchgehende Entwicklung hervorzuheben, die sich etwa in einem vorderen Teil der drei ersten Variationen und in dem Finale-Teil der drei letzten Variationen abzeichnet" (Schmidt writes that in the 12 variations, one should particularly note the development throughout that becomes apparent in the first part of the first three variations and also in the finales of the last three variations).

In order for us to gain a lively impression of them, we might wish to listen to the following midi sample:  

 

Midi sample of this work at Classical Music Archives, under "Piano Variations"

 

 

 NINE VARIATIONS ON THE ARIA 'QUANT' E PIU BELLO'
FROM PAISIELLOS 'LA MOLINARA', IN A MAJOR, WoO 69 

 

For the two further Variation works that can with certainty be assigned to the year 1795, Beethoven would turn to another composer.  With respect to the original work and Beethovens Variations, WoO 69, Thayer-Forbes reports:  

 



Paisiello

 

 

"Paisiello's La Molinara, composed in 1788 for Naples, was performed on March 8, 1794 in the Court Opera, and again on June 24 and 27, 1795 in the Kärntnerthor-Theater in Vienna.  Considering the time of the publication of these unpretentious but genial little variations, their composition may be set down after the latter performances" (Thayer: 176).  

Thayer-Forbes also includes this work in his list of compositions that were completed between 1793 and 1795 (p. 178) and reports on its publication (p. 179) that it was done by Traeg in 1795 and that the work was dedicated to Prince Karl Lichnowsky.   Cooper (p. 59) still reports with respect to its publication that:

" . . . one of them, a set of nine on a theme from Paisiello's La Molinara (WoO 69) was actually published as Op. 2 before the end of the year" (Cooper: 59).

For Beethoven friends it might be interesting that, as Hans Schmidt reports, also Beethoven's old Bonn teacher, Christian Gottlob Neefe, already in 1794, had published a piano reduction of La Molinara.  

With respect to tome of its musical character, Schmidt writes:  

" . . .In die Sphäre des Tänzerischen versetzen die drei letzten Variationen, die neunte und letzte denn auch mit der Unterbezeichnung „Tempo di Menuetto“"; --

-- Schmidt writes that the last three variations are dance-like, and that the ninth and last one was also subtitled "Tempo di Menuetto."


Let us try to see if we can find anything dance-like in these three last variations, in the following midi sample:  

 

Midi Sample of this work at Classical Music Archives, under "Piano Variations"

 

SIX VARIATIONS ON THE DUET
'NEL COR PIU NON MI SENTO'
FROM 'LA MOLINARA', IN G MAJOR, WoO 70

 

With respect to the first of Beethoven's variation works that is based on La Molinara, we also referred to Thayer-Forbes's report (p. 176) that Paisiello's opera had been composed for Naples in 1788 and that it had been staged by the Vienna Court Opera on March 8, 1794 and by the Kärtnertortheater on June 24 and 27, 1795.  

Why did Beethoven compose variations to a second theme from this opera?  With respect to this, Thayer-Forbes refers to Franz-Gerhard Wegeler's report:  

" . . .  "Beethoven was seated in a box at the opera with a lady of whom he thought much at a performance of La Molinara.  When the familiar "Nel cor piu non mi sento' was reached the lady remarked that she had possessed some variations on the theme but had lost them.  In the same night Beethoven wrote the six variations on the melody and the next morning sent them to the lady with the inscription: 'Variationi, etc. Perdute par la--ritrovata par Luigi van Beethoven."  They are so easy that it is likely that Beethoven wished that she should be able to play them at sight.   . . . " (Thayer: 176).

As we already know, Thayer-Forbes maintains that these variations were written after the Kärntertheater performances in 1795.  They are also listed in this standard biography as having been completed in that year (p. 178), while they are described there (p. 202) as having been published by Traeg in Vienna in 1796.  

As additional composers who have variations on the same theme, Schmidt names J. Gelinek, J. N. Hummel and J. Vanhal, and also Beethoven's friend and patron, Count Moritz Lichnowsky.  

Hans Schmidt describes these variations as "klavieristisch dankbar angelegt, keineswegs sonderlich schwierig und immer wieder sehr wirkungsvoll" (designed very pleasantly for the piano and in no way difficult and always very effective) and "gleichsam wie aus einem Guß gefertigt" (virtually written in one piece).  Let us try to find out for ourselves by listening to the following midi sample:   

 

Link to the Midi Sample at Dominique Prevot's Beethoven Website

 


With respect to our look at the next two works in this genre, WoO 71 and WoO 72, we had the choice of either presenting them in strictly chronological order or in numerical order.  We have decided on the numerical order and hope that our choice will become clear from the overall context of the presented material. 


 

 TWELVE VARIATIONS A RUSSIAN DANCE
FROM WRANITZKYS 'DAS WALDMÄDCHEN', IN A MAJOR, WoO 71

 

On the original theme of  WoO 71 and of its composer, Thayer-Forbes reports: 

"Das Waldmädchen, by Traffieri, music by Paul Wranitsky, was first performed at the Kärnthnerthor Theater on September 28, 1796, and was repeated sixteen times the same year" (Thayer-Forbes: 199).

 

 



Wranitzky
 

The following links offer brief descriptions of the life of this Czech composer: 

Paul Wranitzky at an English-language site of Michael Haydn

Paul Wranitzky at wikipedia.com

 

With respect to the time of the creation of Beethoven's Variations in A Major on a Russian dance from this ballet (that, as Hans Schmidt reports,  "nicht auch von Wranitzky, sondern von dem kroatischen Violinvirtuosen Giov. M. Jarnowic stammt" thus, that it was not also composed by Wranitzky, but rather by the Croatian violin virtuoso Giov. M. Jarnovic)  Thayer-Forbes (p. 199) is of the opinion that the time of the performance of this ballet suggests that Beethoven might have completed them before the end of 1796.  Also in the listing of compostions of that year this work appears as one of them in Thayer-Forbes (p. 201).  

As Thayer-Forbes (p. 190-191) reports, in the early winter of 1796/1797, we have to imagine Beethoven busy with pupils, private performances, but also with the preparation of various works for publication, among them also these variations. 

While the following letter that Wranitzky drafted and that Salieri signed has nothing directly to do with the variations, it still gives us a lively impression of the overall context of Beethoven's contact with these two men of the Viennese music scene: 

"Antonio Salieri [1] und Paul Wranitzky [2] an Beethoven

                                                                      [Wien, 10. Februar 1797]            

Hrn. Van Beethoven

Schazbahrester Herr!

    Die musikalische Wittwen und Waisen Gesellschaft gibt sich die Ehre, Ihnen beyliegend mit einem freyen Billet zu allen künftigen Akademien aufzuwarten; Sie belieben solches jedesmal nur vorzuzeigen, und wieder zu behalten.

    Verzeihen Zie, daß die Sozietaet, der die Versorgung ihrer Wittwen und Waisen am Herzen liegt, nicht anders, als eben so für Dero ihr bereits erwiesene Dienste, sich dankbar zeigen kann:  Nehmen Sie dieses als ihren guten Willen an, und sind Sie so gütig die Wittwen und Waisen der Sozietaet auch ins künf[t]ige durch Ihre Vorgrefliche Talente unterstüzen zu wollen.

Ewig bleibt Ihnen Verpflichtet

Die musikalische Wittwen und Waisen Gesellschaft

                                                               Ant. Salieri m.[aestro] d.[i]c.[apella] 

                                                                                                   Paul Wranizky

                                                                                derzeit sekretär derselb.    

Ex concl. Sessionis

de dato 20  Januarij 1791[3]

Wien den 10ten Februar a.c.

An Herrn Van Beethoven.

"Antonio Salieri [1] and Paul Wranitzky [2] to Beethoven

                                                                      [Vienna, February 10, 1797]            

Hrn. Van Beethoven

Most Esteemed Sir!

    The Musical Widows and Orhpans Society has the honor of presenting to you the enclosed billet for all future academy concerts; you merely have to present it each time and retain it. 

    Please excuse that the Society that is engaged in the acquisition of means for support for its widows and orphans can not show its gratitude for your already rendered services in any other way:  accept it as its good will and be so kind as to also support the widows and orphans of the society with your excellent talents, in the future.   

Eternally indebted to you remains

The Musical Widows and Orphans Society 

                                                               Ant. Salieri m.[aestro] d.[i]c.[apella] 

                                                                                                   Paul Wranizky

                                                                                present Secretary of the same.    

Ex concl. Sessionis

de dato 20  Januarij 1791[3]

Vienna the 10th of February.

To Herr Van Beethoven.

[Source:  Ludwig van Beethoven Briefwechsel Gesamtausgabe, Vol. 1, Letter No. 26, p. 36-37; Original:  Bonn, Beethoven-Haus; according to the GA, Paul Wranitzky wrote the letter that was signed by him and by Salieri; to [1]: refers to Antonio Salieri; to [2]: refers to the Czech composer Paul Wranitzky [1746-1808], who had lived in Vienna from 1776 on and who had hired as music director by Count Johann Nepomuk Esterhazy in 1785.  According to the GA, from 1790 on, he was "Director bei der Violine" (First Violinist) at the Viennese Court Theatres, until 1796 at the Italian, and after that at the German Opera; to  [3]: according to the GA this refers to the fact that the letter originated at a meeting of the Society of Tone Poets of January 20, 1797; details taken from p. 37].     

With respect to the publication of the variations, Thayer-Forbes (p. 190-191) reports that in April, 1797, Artaria announced their publication and that they (p. 199) were also published in this month.  

With respect to their dedication to Countess Browne, née Bietinghoff, Thayer-Forbres refers to Ries's recollection of an anecdote that was typical for Beethoven:  

" . . . for this dedication he had "received a handsome riding-horse from Count Browne as a gift.  He rode the animal a few times, soon after forgot all about it and, worse than that, its food also.  His servant, who soon notices this, began to hire out the horse for his own benefit and, in order not to attract the attention of Beethoven the the fact, for a long time withheld from him all bills for fodder.  At length, however, to Beethoven's great amazement he handed in a very large one, which recalled to him at once his horse and his neglectfulness."" (Thayer: 191).

 

Hans Schmidt reports of this Russian dance that Joseph Haydn used the same melody for a piece for the flute clock, and with respect to Beethoven's variations, he writes: 

" . . . Bei dem feinen Sinn, den Beethoven für ungewohnte und unerwartete rhythmische Nuancen hatte, ist es nicht verwunderlich, daß er an einem solchen rhythmisch interessanten Thema Gefallen fand. Als Färbung ins Russische darf man vielleicht auch den verhältnismäßig hohen Anteil der drei Moll-Variationen verstehen. Hans v. Bülow soll gerade diese Variationen besonders geschätzt haben"; --

-- Schmidt writes here that, with the fine feeling Beethoven had for unusual and unexpected rhythmic nuances, it is not surprising that he found a liking in this rhythmically interesting theme.  As a 'Russian' trait, one should also consider the relatively high percentage of the three variations in minor.  Hans v. Bülow is reported as having particularly liked them).

Perhaps, the following midi sample helps us to gain a lively impression of these variations:  

 

Midi Sample of this work at Classical Music Archives, under "Piano Variations"

 

 

 EIGHT VARIATIONS ON THE ROMANCE 'UN FIEBRE BRULANTE' FROM GRETRY'S 'RICHARD COEUR DE LION', IN C MAJOR, WoO 72

Thayer-Forbes (p. 199) reports with respect to the original composition that: 

"According to Sonnleithner, Richard, Coeur de Lion was first performed at the Hoftheater, Vienna, on January 7, 1788; then again on June 13, 1799 in the Theater auf den Wieden; but a ballet, Richard Löwenherz, by Vigano, music by Weigl, in which Gretry's romance ("Une fiebre brulante") was interpolated, was brought forward on July 2, 1795, in the Hof- und Nationaltheater and repeated often in that year . . . , " (Thayer: 199).



Gretry

The following links offer brief description of Gretry's life. 

Gretry at Wikipedia

Gretry at answers.com

 

Thayer (p. 199) is of the opinion that it probably was at the time of the success of this ballet that Beethoven was inspired to compose variations on Gretry's romance.  

Cooper (p. 59) writes that they might already have been completed in 1795, while  Thayer-Forbes (p. 201) lists them as having been completed in 1796.

In January 1798, Traeg in Vienna, as Thayer-Forbes (p. 218) states, published the work.  

How it was received by contemporary music critics can be seen at the example of the following AMZ review:  

"No. 23 - March 6,  1799

XII Variation sur le Theme: Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen, pour le Pianoforte, avec un Violoncelle oblige, compose par L. van Beethoven. No. 6 a Vienne chez F. Traeg. (Prix 12 Gr.)

VIII Variations sur le Theme: Mich brennt' ein heißes Fieber, pour le Pianoforte, compose par L. van Beethoven. No. 7. a Vienne chez F. Traeg. (Prix 11 Gr.)

That Herr van Beethoven is a skilled pianist, is known, and if it were not known, one could discern it from these variations.  However, whether he is an as fortunate composer, is a question that, judging from the piece at hand, might be answered with "yes", with more difficulty.  With this, the rev[iever] does not want to say that some of these variations have not pleased and he gladly admits that those on the theme, Mich brennt' ein heißes Fieber turned out better for Hr. B. than M o z a r t ' s did that the latter had written in his youth.  However, with respect to his variations on the first theme, Hr. B. was less lucky, where he, for example, in the modulations, allows himself a jerkiness and hardness that is less than beautiful.  One should particularly pay attention to Var. XII, where he, in broken chords, modulates from F Major to D Major:  

(A sample from the particular section in the score is inserted here.)

and where he, all of a sudden, after the theme has been heard in this key, returns to F Major in this manner:  

(Another sample of the particular section in the score is inserted.)

I can look at and listen to such transitions in any way I want, they remain dull and are and remain so all the more, the more pretentious and announced they are supposed to be.  In any event--what I wanted to tell the author of the above pieces not alone and not as the first thing--these days, such a large number of variations are produced, and, unfortunately, also printed, without their authors' knowing what good variations are actually all about.  May I give them some advice, as well as it can be given here, briefly?  Well, he who has intellect and skill at writing something musical that is good, at all--for, without those traits, one merely remains a sounding piece of metal or a sounding bell--he should learn from Jos. H a y d n how to choose his theme.  The themes of this master are, first and foremost, a) simple and easy to grasp, b) beautifully rhythmical, c) not common, and suitable for further melodic and harmonic elaboration.  If one wants to a) have instruction on how such a well-chosen theme should be varied (as far as instruction on something like this can even be given): then one should, first and foremost, study a little work that, as far as I know, has not become well-known, and that certainly not by its merit--Vogler's Judgment of F o r k e l ' s Variation on the English Folk Song  God save the King, Frankfurt, published by Varrentrappu Wenner. One should not consider this treatise a common review:  its equally genial and learned author not only shows what has to be criticized in these variations, not only, how it could be done better, but also, why it could be done better and why it should be done precisely in this way and not in any other.  ---  M. . . . "

With respect to the way he was treated by Leipzig music critics, on January 18, 1801, Beethoven wrote to Hoffmeister:  "was die Leipziger R.[ezensenten] betrift, so lasse man sie doch nur reden, sie werden gewiß niemand durch ihr Geschwäz unsterblich machen, so wie sie <sie> auch niemand die Unsterblichkeit nehmen werden, dem sie von Apoll bestimmt ist. . . .  " "as far as the Leipzig r.[eviewers] are concerned, one should let them talk, with their chatter, they will certainly not make anyone immortal, and they will also not take immortality away from him who has been destined for it by Apollo. . . . " (Source:  Ludwig van Beethoven Briefwechsel Gesamtausgabe, Vol. 1, Letter No. 54, p. 64).

Thayer-Forbes (p. 276-277) also refers to the AMZ criticism and to Beethoven's remark to Hoffmeister.  

Hans Schmidt describes the variations as "rhythmisch wie überhaupt im ganzen um so einfacher und dabei technisch gar nicht allzu schwierig" (thus, as rhythmically and overall all the more simple and technically not too difficult) and further notes that obviously, the simplicity and calmness of such a theme held some charm for Beethoven, although it did not inspire him to unleash his temperament in these variations.  

Let us listen to the following midi sample and let us form our own opinions after that:  

 

Midi Sample of this work at Classical Music Archives, under "Piano Variations"

 

 

TEN VARIATIONS ON THE DUET 'LA STESSA, LA STESSISSIMA' FROM SALIERI'S 'FALSTAFF', IN B-FLAT, WoO 73

 

In this section, we already encountered Salieri as co-signatory of the letter to Beethoven by Wranitzky, from the year 1797.  




Antonio Salieri


With respect to the original work, to the duet 'La stessa, la stessissima" of which Beethoven composed his B-flat variations, Barry Cooper reports: 

"A new opera, Falstaff, by the Vienna court composer Antonio Salieri, was produced on 3 January, and Beethoven immediately began composing a set of variations on a duet from it ('La stessa, la stessissima', WoO 73)" (Cooper: 78).

Lewis Lockwood confirms that this happened in the year 1799.  However, from his report we also learn more with respect to the sketchbooks which Beethoven used at that time:

"Grasnick 1 contains material for a few important compositions, with lesser projects or marginal jottings interleaved before and after the works that were his main focus.

    . . . Grasnick 1 remained his primary sketchbook until about February 1799, a period of about six or seven months, allowing us to estimate the larger rhythm of his work on Opus 18 No. 3 in its earlier phases.  . . . More extensive are some further sketches for all movements of the B-flat Piano Concerto and a few more entries for songs and minor works, including the Piano Variations WoO 73 on on Salieri's "La stessa la stessissima" from the opera Falstaff.  Beethoven probably worked on it in that part of the book (fols. 30-36) shortly after the opera was premiered on January 3, 1799. . . . " (Lockwood: 127-128).

Cooper (p. 78-79) assumes that Beethoven's work on these variations must have proceeded rather quickly, since Artaria & Co. published them within less than two months.  Perhaps, Cooper continues, this publisher might even have commissioned them from Beethoven.  Cooper also leaves room for the possibility that Beethoven's personal contact with Salieri [our comment: as his teacher of Italian Opera composition] might have provided an opportunity that he started with the composition of these variations already before the premiere of the opera.   

Thayer-Forbes (p. 218, 263) also describes these variations as having been composed in 1799 and as having been published by Artaria and, in the chapter to the year 1801, reference is also made to the negative AMZ review (p. 278).  We can offer you this review in our translation from the original text: 

"AMZ

No. 38 - 19. Juny 1799

X Variations pour le Clavecin sur le Duo: la stessa, la stessima, par L. van Beethoven. No. 8 a Vienne, chez Artaria. (1 Fl.)

With these, one can not be satisfied, at all. How stiff they are and how contrived and what unpleasant passages are in them, in which hard tirades in continuing half-tones against the bass create an ugly relationship and vice versa. No, it is true, Mr. B. might be able to improvise, but he can not write variations, very well."

With respect to their musical character, Maynard Solomon writes:

" The Variations on Salieri's "La stessa, la stessisima," WoO 73, written in 1799, still rely on ornamental techniques, but their harmonic plan and carefully designed tempo alternations create a more organic structure" (Solomon: 98).

Can we trace something of this organic structure by listening to the following midi sample? 

Midi Sample of this work at Classical Music Archives, under "Piano Variations"

 

 

SEVEN VARIATIONS ON THE QUARTET 'KIND, WILLST DU RUHIG SCHLAFEN' FROM WINTER'S 'DAS UNTERBROCHENE OPFERFEST',
IN F MAJOR, WoO 75

 

In Beethoven literature available to us, with respect to the original work of Beethoven's Variations in F Major, WoO 75, we could not find a specific reference to the year in which this opera (Das unterbrochene Opferfest) premiered in Vienna.  Zum Originalwerk der Beethoven'schen F-Dur-Variationen, WoO 75, fanden wir  keinen genauen Hinweis auf das Wiener Uraufführungsjahr von Winters Oper Das unterbrochene Opferfest in unserer Beethovenliteratur. (With respect to this year,  Wikipedia refers to 1796. ) 




Peter von Winter

 

Those of you who would like to find out more about this German composer, can do so via this link:

Peter von Winter at www.mozartforum.com

 

Barry Cooper provides us with information on the time in which Beethoven composed his variations to the quartet "Kind, willst du ruhig schlafen?":

"During the last two months of 1799 Beethoven concentrated mainly on composing his Septet, Op. 20, and his Variations on 'Kind, willst du ruhig schlafen'' (WoO 75) . . . " (Cooper: 82).

As Thayer-Forbes (p. 263) reports, sketches to Beethoven's Septet, Op. 20 and to these Variations were found amongst his sketches to his Quartet in A-Major of Op. 18.  

Barry Cooper (p. 82) reports that these Variarions were announced by Mollo on December 21, 1799, which confirms the publication month of December, 1799.  Also Thayer-ForBes (p. 218) lists them as having been published in this year.  

Hans Schmidt wonders if musical events of the day, such as the staging of the opera "Das unterbrochene Opferfest" by Peter von Winter caused Beethoven to write his variations on the quartet "Kind, willst du ruhig schlafen" or whether Beethoven's possible liking of the beauty of the theme caused him to do so.  He describes Winter's thematic material as not too promising so that one can again marvel at what Beethoven made out of it.  

In any event, let us listen to the following midi sample so that we can form our own opinions:  

Midi Sample of this work at Classical Music Archives, under "Piano Variations"

 

 

SIX VARIATIONS ON THE TRIO 'TÄNDELN UND SCHERZEN' FROM SÜSSMAYRS 'SOLIMAN II', IN F-MAJOR, WoO 76

 

One month before Beethoven embarked on composition these Variations, the original work on which they are based, Mozart pupil Franz Xaver Süssmayr's opera Soliman II, oder die drei Sultaninnen was performed at the Vienna Court Theatre on October 1, 1799 (Thayer-Forbes: 215).

Whether Beethoven received a commission to write the variations or whether he embarked on his own to write variations on the trio  Tändeln und scherzen, can not be determined.  

What we know, however, is that they were dedicated to Countess Browne, née von Bietinghoff and that they were announced in the Wiener Zeitung of December 18, 1799, as being published by Hoffmeister in Leipzig (Thayer-Forbes: 215).  According to Thayer-Forbes, they were also printed by Eder.  

It should not take long until they would be reviewed by the AMZ in Leipzig:  

"No. 24 - 12. März 1800

VIII Variations sur le Cl. ou F.P. sur le Trio: Tändeln und scherzen; de l'opera Soliman, comp. et dediees a Mad. la Comtesse de Browne, nee de Vietinghoff, par Louis van Beethoven, Nr. 10, a Vienne chez Hoffmeister. (16 gr.)

Light and pleasing, without, otherwise, featuring anything extraordinary.  No. 8 as Allegro Vivace has pleasantly imitated phrasing.  This can be said of these variations, and--not more, if one wants to be impartial.  A composer like  B e e t h o v e n  has spoiled us to expect great things." 

Thayer-Forbes (p. 215) has Carl Czerny report that these variations were the first composition that Beethoven gave him to study when he became his pupil in 1801.  

Hans Schmidt agrees that they might well have served as lesson material and also refers to Czerny's report and backs this up with his remark that the work's demands on agility and technical precision are undeniable.  

What will we discover in these variations when we listen to the following midi sample?  

 

Midi Sample of this work at Classical Music Archives, under "Piano Variations"

 

 

 SIX VARIATIONS ON AN ORIGINALTHEME,
IN G MAJOR, WoO 77

 

With respect to Beethoven's last variations from his early Vienna years, we can not introduce another composer as the composer of the theme, since this was also composed by Beethoven.  




Beethoven around 1800


As Hans Schmidt reports, we can encounter the original theme not only in WoO 77, but also in the piano sonata in B-flat, Op. 22, namely in the first transitional passage of the rondo.  

With respect to Beethoven's sketches to this work and with respect to their chronological sequence, Thayer-Forbes reports in the standard biography's chapter to the year 1800:

"In the Peter Collection at Vienna there are sketches for the last movement of the G major Quartet, the last movement of the B-flat Quartet (among them one which was discarded), both deviating from the printed form more or less, and one for the third and last movements of the F major Quartet.  The latter approach pretty closely the ultimate form; thus this quartet was further advanced than the others.  Associated with this sketch are sketches for the Sonata in B-flat, Op. 22, and for the easy Variations in G Major which were begun while work was in progress on the last movement of the Quartet in G" (Thayer-Forbes: 263).

While mention of these sketches in the chapter to the year 1800 allows us to assume that the work was composed in that year, Barry Cooper narrows down the time period in which Op. 22 and WoO 77 were composed, as follows:  

"After his return from Budapest in July 1800, Beethoven spent most of the year composing a Piano Sonata in B flat (Op. 22), two Violin Sonatas (Opp. 23 and 24), and another set of Piano Variations (WoO 77). . . . " (Cooper: 95).

With respect to the completion of the variations,  Thayer-Forbes (p. 265) writes that these "Variations tres faciles" 1800 were sketched in 1800 and probably also completed in that year.  The standard biography includes these variations also in its list of completed compositions of 1800 (p. 267).  

Cooper (p. 95) further reports that they were already published in December, 1800.  

Beethoven's description of these variations as 'very easy' is referred to by Cooper as a 'slight exaggeration'.

With respect to their musical content and character, Hans Schmidt writes that Beethoven was a master of 'germinating' musical developments: he not only mastered the art of transformation, but also knew how to prepare a theme for such a development.  He describes the secret charm of the six light variations, WoO 77as an example of that and describes them as incredibly organically developed, flowing and complete.  

To these variations, we also offer you access to a link with a midi sample, before we move on to discussing Beethoven's piano variations of his middle style period:  

Midi Sample of this work at Classical Music Archives, under "Piano Variations"

 

[Background Image: Beethoven's Broadwood Piano]