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Ludwig van Beethoven

15 Variations with a Fugue in E flat Major, Op. 35 ā€œEroica Variationsā€
1.Introduzione col basso del tema – A due – A tre – A quattro – Theme
2. Variation I
3. Variation II
4. Variation III
5. Variation IV
6. Variation V
7. Variation VI
8. Variation VII
9. Variation VIII
10. Variation IX
11. Variation X
12. Variation XI
13. Variation XII
14. Variation XIII
15. Variation XIV: Minore
16. Variation XV: Maggiore. Largo – Coda
17. Finale alla Fuga – Andante con moto

6 Piano Variations in F Major, Op. 34
18. Theme: Adagio
19. Variation I
20. Variation II: Allegro ma non troppo
21. Variation III: Allegretto
22. Variation IV: Tempo di Minuetto
23. Variation V: Marcia. Allegretto
24. Variation VI: Allegretto – Coda – Adagio Molto

Piano Sonata No. 23 in F Minor, Op. 57 ā€œAppassionataā€
25. Allegro assai
26. Andante con moto
27. Allegro ma non troppo

On the Verge of Despair Ā©
By Kristian Riisager

I usually only hear it said by others when I have new ideas, as I never know it myself, but this time – I must assure you, that the way of composing in both pieces are entirely new to meā€* The quote was written by Beethoven in the fall of 1802 about his two new variation works, opus 34 and 35. Only 12 days before during a recreational stay in the small town Heiligenstadt, he had written his famous Heiligenstadt Testament as a reaction to his increasing deafness. In the preceding years his hearing had become gradually worse, and he had realized that it would probably never improve. Thus, he was caught in great despair. Not only did this development stand in the way of his work as a musician and improvisor, something which he in his first years in Vienna had achieved great acclaim for, but it moreover led to him being socially isolated from his surroundings.

ā€œWhat a humiliation for me when someone standing next to me heard a flute in the distance and I heard nothing, or someone heard a shepherd singing and again I heard nothing. Such incidents drove me almost to despair, a little more of that and I would have ended my life. It was only my art that held me back. Oh, it seemed impossible to me to leave this world before I had produced all that I felt capable of producing.ā€** The testament and the stay in Heiligenstadt turned out to be a turning point in Beethovenā€™s work and marked a new musical era.

The opus 35, today known as the Eroica Variations, was at the time groundbreaking in many ways. Beethoven had already used the main theme two times prior, namely in 12 Contredanses WoO 14 (1800-02) and in

his ballet Die Geschƶpfe des Prometheus (1801). The ballet especially had achieved great success and the theme was therefore well known to the audience.

As opposed to the traditional variation form, the opus 35 does not begin with the main theme, but instead with the presentation of, and hereafter three variations over the base line to the theme. Only then is the main theme introduced and the piece truly takes off. Thus, Beethoven plays with the expectations of the listener and the joy of recognition increases accordingly.

In opus 35 Beethoven moves between a huge variety of different moods, from the humoristic to the virtuoso, from the powerful to the intimate. He applies the piano in new and symphonic ways which differs from the perfected classical style of Mozart and Haydn. The more symphonic and powerful style came to define Beethovenā€™s work in the following decade before he in his late production moved in a more introverted and contrapuntal direction.

After a number of short energetic variations Beethoven broadens and adds ornamentation to the theme in the 14th and 15th variations. The piece culminates in a brilliant fugue which is succeeded by an Andante con moto. A form feature he would use again in his Diabelli Variations. One year later Beethoven put the theme to use one last time in the finale of the grandiose 3rd symphony. It is unusual for Beethoven to reuse the same theme this many times in different works ā€“ an indication that he might have found this particular melody especially inspiring.

Beethoven wrote and published many variation pieces throughout his life, most of which were published without opus numbers. These were created especially with amateur musicians in mind, who could amuse themselves by playing variations on, back then, well known melodies. Assumedly, Beethoven thought the variation pieces which he gave opus numbers to, were of a particularly high quality.

This also goes for the lesser known variation piece opus 34. It is not a piece expressing the same panache as the Eroica Variations, but it is full of character and humour. Beethoven varies both key, meter signature and metronome mark in each variation, and hereby transforms the theme to a hunting melody, a minuet, a dramatic funeral march and a simplistic folk-like melody. The overarching plan for the variations is very schematic, with the keys creating a falling circle of thirds, from the theme in F major to the following variations in D major, B flat major, G major, E flat major, and C minor. A small bridge prepares the return of the tonic in the 6th variation before the piece ends with an ornamented repeat of the main theme.

It is fascinating that Beethoven, in the midst of one of his biggest life crises, composes music filled with such vitality, energy and humour. Neither opus 34 nor 35 contains the despair, which Beethoven experienced as a result of his increasing deafness. They even seem to be a creative counter reaction to his misery. The following years became some of the most productive in Beethovenā€™s life and he wrote several master pieces, amongst others the famous piano sonata opus 57, which later came to be known under the name Appassionata. It is unknown whether Beethoven found his inspiration for Appassionata in his own life, but the piece contains both the despair and hope that he was experiencing.

The themes of the first movement are born out of the same motive, but their expressions are very different. The main themeā€™s awaiting, ominous mystique is contrasted by the side themeā€™s striving and melodious line.

The movement never quiets down and small serene moments are disrupted by desperate cries, which at times use most of the early 19th-century piano range. The second movement is a variation movement and stands in striking contrast to the first movement. It seems as if Beethoven is trying to compose his way to heaven. The movement starts with a deep chorale, which is varied and ornamented, while the movement is slowly rising through the registers. The music is building towards a climax, which is never reached. Instead, we disappear into a world of shadows and desperation in the third movement. As in a nightmare, the fleeting sixteenth-notes fly through the movement and the piece culminates in a violent and implacable coda. Many of Beethovenā€™s works begin in a tragic manner, but surprisingly few also end in one. Pieces such as the 5th and 9th symphonies begin tragically, but end triumphantly. His last piano sonata opus 111 begins passionately and upsettingly, but transcends in the finale towards the light. Appassionata stays implacable until the very end and hereby stands as the most desperate of all of his piano sonatas.

RELEASE DATE:

February 2023

CATALOGUE NUMBER.:

DACOCD 948

EAN:

5709499948002