Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
33 Veränderungen über einen Walzer von Anton Diabelli, Op. 120 (1819-1823)
Teatro Peón Contreras
Mérida, Yucatán, México
November 4th, 2011
The Diabelli Variations encapsulate the totality of Beethoven’s compositional style with all of its behaviors, digressions, interjections, wonders, injunctions, and developments completely intact and, with a remarkably adventurous spirit, operating in stunning fluidity in one of the most outrageous and seemingly baffling compositions ever written for the piano. Here, we find the traditional genre of classical Theme and Variations maximized into a work of serious experimentation and contemplation; one which is veiled as a game of charade while it assumes epic proportions in both duration as well as thematic treatment and variety.
Many apocryphal stories are attributed to the origin of the Diabelli Variations. Whatever the reasons Beethoven decided to write this exceptional set of miniatures were, what survives has been described as a microcosm of his entire oeuvre, and with good reason. The piece is singular in the constellation of works Beethoven produced; a late work written during a time in which his deafness must have seemed, in every respect, conclusive. Pointing towards the future in astonishing ways while abandoning what must in those days have seemed to be the last semblances of a rational harmonic restraint, the Diabelli Variations surely would have confirmed Beethoven’s continual ability to completely captivate his audiences with the enthralling figuration unique to his conception of technique; one can only imagine what contemporary audiences and admirers must have thought of these dazzling ‘impossibilities’ of the keyboard.
There are many difficulties in presenting a work like this to an audience, aside from the sheer length of the piece and the stamina and consistency required to execute it. One of them is the built-in feature of disjunct separations occuring between each variation which imbues a kind of discontinuity that pervades the work. Indeed, Beethoven exploits this jarring facet of the Theme and Variations genre to create dramatic contrasts from variation to variation. Also too, there is the fact that the majority of these variations reside in a single tonal space — C major — except for four variations in C minor and the penultimate Fugue in which Beethoven modulates to the key of Eb Major (the relative major of the C minor sections which precede it) which makes it especially demanding on the listener. Yet, there exists a wealth of activity and tension which excites and compliments this homogenous tonal landscape. There is a brutish and aggressive nature to many of the variations, bending the original theme beyond all recognition. And as well there are some of the more sublime and introspective moments Beethoven ever conceived on any instrument; powerful episodes which the performer must grapple with. For being one of the most important works Beethoven ever wrote, it is surprisingly under-performed. Coming into contact with this bizarre and monumental piece can be an illuminating experience, especially when it’s able to reveal the true extent of Beethoven’s technical ingenuity and musical genius.
Los Angeles. May 13th, 2012