"Diabelli" and "Goldberg" Variations

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Belle
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"Diabelli" and "Goldberg" Variations

Post by Belle » Thu May 23, 2019 6:46 pm

Last week our music group had a program about the "Diabelli Variations". Much discussion ensued on the work and variation form itself. I've never warmed to either work and I wonder if it is structural. Some people described variations as depicting 'moods' while still others, like myself, felt variation form is ultimately unsatisfactory because it isn't going anywhere, per se, unlike sonata form which has a narrative arc. I suggested that Beethoven had 'run out of road' with his piano sonatas and that the DV were an exploration of ideas he'd started there and which seemed to suit his thought processes. For me, the "Diabelli Variations" are an exploration of what is possible in compositional and technical elements - coloration, rhythm, texture and complex counterpoint - but they remain an esoteric expression of creativity when they are placed together, one after another, in that form and not surrounded by a bigger structure or over-arching narrative direction.

Apart from individual variations, eg. No. 1 in "Goldberg", there isn't much appeal. Many of our people in the audience last week couldn't discern the original melody throughout, which provided the basis of the variations - and that's a legitimate problem. I find I can enjoy the Brahms "Variations and Fugue on a theme by Handel" in a way I cannot the other two works identified.

Thoughts?

John F
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Re: "Diabelli" and "Goldberg" Variations

Post by John F » Fri May 24, 2019 1:21 am

Beethoven wrote sets of variations all through his creative life, either as independent works or as movements of larger works, e.g. the fnale of the Eroica symphony. And I wouldn't say that a variation movement like the finale of his last piano sonata "isn't going anywhere." That said, the Diabelli Variations were one of the last Beethoven works that I could get a handle on, and even now I don't find them very rewarding and seldom listen to them except in a concert containing other music as well.

The Goldberg Variations are another matter. First of all, the theme is more attractive in itself and lends itself to more varied treatment than Diabelli's "Schusterfleck"; clearly the latter turned Beethoven on for some reason, as he was only originally asked for a single variation. Second, the Goldbergs are a stunning display of compositional virtuosity which fascinates me in itself. But I also respond to the range of moods.

You say, "Many of our people in the audience last week couldn't discern the original melody throughout, which provided the basis of the variations - and that's a legitimate problem." Seems like they didn't realize, and perhaps weren't told, that it's not the melody but the bass that's the basis ( :) ) of Bach's variations. If you listen for it, you'll hear the bass line and the chord progression based ( :) ) on it unvaried in every one of the variations. That's not the most enjoyable or productive way to listen to the music for the first time, but it should be heard that way at least once to appreciate the extraordinary variety of inventions that Bach has created to go with it.

In recent decades, performers have taken to playing the repeats, which makes the variation set as a whole very long. I believe this is a bad idea, arising from pious respect for the text despite the composer's presumption that all 30 variations wouldn't be played complete but a few at a time.

In addition to sets of variations presented as such, there are other forms such as the passacaglia and chaconne which are intrinsically theme and variations. Some of these even turn up in operas, as with Dido's "When I am laid in earth" in Purcell's "Dido and Aeneas" and as one of the interludes in Britten's "Peter Grimes."



https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iZxjbJPxYQg

"Wozzeck," Act 1 scene 4, is a passacaglia, though if Berg hadn't said so we wouldn't recognize the form (and aren't supposed to). This isn't arbitrary - the recurrence of the passacaglia ostinato bass corresponds with the doctor's obsession with his own fame as well as with the idée fixe he diagnoses in Wozzeck.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2o8qTKD5E4c

In the score, the uploader has helpfully numbered the notes in the bass line to show the recurrence of the passacaglia theme.

It's a big topic, and maybe your group might revisit it eventually to increase their appreciation of the form and its possibilities.
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Rach3
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Re: "Diabelli" and "Goldberg" Variations

Post by Rach3 » Fri May 24, 2019 8:59 am

While I do treasure the "Goldbergs", I have not warmed to the " Diabelli." The "Handels" are great, as are Brahms' "Schumann Variations " .

More recently, lighter fare, are Rachmaninoff's "Chopin Variations" I actually like more so than his nonetheless fine "Corelli Variations" , and Mompou's "Chopin Variations." Rzewski's " ThePeople United.." Variations are a challenge, but I do re-hear occasionally.

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Re: "Diabelli" and "Goldberg" Variations

Post by John F » Fri May 24, 2019 10:28 am

And of course Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, a set of variations in all but name. I remember when I discovered, rather belatedly, that variation 18, the big tune in the middle, is actually the Paganini theme transposed to the major and turned upside down.
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Belle
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Re: "Diabelli" and "Goldberg" Variations

Post by Belle » Fri May 24, 2019 2:27 pm

Our audience wasn't listening to the "Goldberg" on the particular occasion but I do agree they're the more interesting of the two sets I've discussed and that's why I included them in this discussion. (Plus the fact that they're often regarded as of similar stature.) And I do enjoy the variation treatment in Beethoven's other larger structures - sonatas and symphonies - as earlier stated. But as a stand-alone idea for an entire work these just don't excite. Not just in Beethoven either! The treatment of the Paganini theme by various composers doesn't interest me either, across the board.

The Passacaglia and Chaconne are time-honoured compositional devices from the baroque and I enjoy these when they constitute a larger work, such as the final movement of the Brahms Symphony No. 4. But the Bach Chaconne in D for violin is more accessible as the theme is always readily apparent (as also in the Busoni transcription). The variations never totally obscure the main elements of the musical idea. That's a personal response. And what do you think of Hilary Hahn's performance of it here?!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QqA3qQMKueA

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Re: "Diabelli" and "Goldberg" Variations

Post by Rach3 » Fri May 24, 2019 2:44 pm

From the NYT obituary for Rudolf Serkin:

" Among the dozens of recordings he made, those in which he teamed as a chamber-music partner with Adolf Busch, the German violinist, are especially prized by collectors. It was Mr. Busch who promoted the young pianist's European career, presenting him as a soloist in Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 at Mr. Serkin's Berlin debut in 1921. Mr. Serkin, recalling this in the magazine Clavier, said: "I was 17 years old. At tne end of the concert, because it had been a great success, Busch pushed me out, saying I should play an encore. 'What shall I play?' I asked. 'The Goldberg Variations,' he replied, as a joke. (Without repeats, the Bach work takes half an hour to perform.) And I took him seriously. When I finished there were only four people left: Adolf Busch, Arthur Schnabel, Alfred Einstein [ the musicologist ] and me."

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Re: "Diabelli" and "Goldberg" Variations

Post by Lance » Fri May 24, 2019 4:28 pm

Me? I love both, the Goldbergs and the Diabelli. With around 71+ recordings of the Goldbergs, mostly for piano solo, some for harpsichord, and some arrangements for string trio, and even one for two pianos. For me, as a pianophile, I find both sets very interesting to see what pianists do with such mammoth works and how they make it "work" as an extended composition bringing different qualities to each variation. And with only 54+ recordings of Diabelli, you could say I love this work as well. Given the caliber of the pianists that tackle both sets of these variations (pianists of the highest caliber), they, too, must have found something within these complex works that make them worthwhile for concert and/or recordings. Regarding the Goldbergs, I must say that I really never fully understood these early on in life until I heard Glenn Gould's first recording for Columbia Records. I was hooked after that.
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Rach3
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Re: "Diabelli" and "Goldberg" Variations

Post by Rach3 » Fri May 24, 2019 4:51 pm

One “Diabelli” I did enjoy more than most was by pianist Daniel-Ben Pienaar, who has also recorded “Goldberg” .

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Re: "Diabelli" and "Goldberg" Variations

Post by Rach3 » Fri May 24, 2019 6:19 pm

Rach3 wrote:
Fri May 24, 2019 4:51 pm
One “Diabelli” I did enjoy more than most was by pianist Daniel-Ben Pienaar, who has also recorded “Goldberg” .
Pienaar's complete "Diabelli ":

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d5r7U7B ... f4zatFwdOw

Almost complete " Goldberg" :
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=maaAR40 ... f8&index=2

He has also recorded the complete Beethoven and Mozart sonatas, the complete Bach WTC, and the complete solo keyboard works of Orlando Gibbons ( I have that 2-cd set ), Gibbons having been Glenn Gould's favorite composer. All at YT.

Rach3
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Re: "Diabelli" and "Goldberg" Variations

Post by Rach3 » Fri May 24, 2019 6:25 pm

FWW, Pienaar's Gibbons,Bach,Mozart,Beethoven cd sets have top ratings from Amazon-US reviewers.

Ricordanza
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Re: "Diabelli" and "Goldberg" Variations

Post by Ricordanza » Sat May 25, 2019 6:20 am

Belle wrote:
Thu May 23, 2019 6:46 pm
Thoughts?
I'll give you two thoughts.

The theme and variations form is the most enduring of all musical forms. It predates the sonata and, perhaps, has outlasted it. Rzewski's "The People United" is one relatively contemporary example, Lutoslawski's "Paganini Variations" is another, and I am sure there are others. The endurance of this form is a fairly strong indication of its popularity with composers and audiences.

Regardless of popularity, personal taste is more important and I happen to have a special affection for the theme and variations form. Accordingly, both the "Goldbergs" and the "Diabelli" are among my favorite pieces. Others include Beethoven's Eroica Variations, Schumann's Symphonic Etudes, Brahms' Handel Variations, and Rachmaninoff's Corelli Variations.

Rach3
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Re: "Diabelli" and "Goldberg" Variations

Post by Rach3 » Sat May 25, 2019 9:10 am

Imogen Cooper's new recording of "Diabelli" on Chandos is discussed briefly here today on BBC Radio 3 Record Review staring at about 1:45:00 into the archived braodcast , as is Lars Vogt's Mozart Sonatas,Giltburg's Rachmaninoff Preludes, others:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m0005gtm

Belle
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Re: "Diabelli" and "Goldberg" Variations

Post by Belle » Sat May 25, 2019 3:17 pm

Ricordanza wrote:
Sat May 25, 2019 6:20 am
Belle wrote:
Thu May 23, 2019 6:46 pm
Thoughts?
I'll give you two thoughts.

The theme and variations form is the most enduring of all musical forms. It predates the sonata and, perhaps, has outlasted it. Rzewski's "The People United" is one relatively contemporary example, Lutoslawski's "Paganini Variations" is another, and I am sure there are others. The endurance of this form is a fairly strong indication of its popularity with composers and audiences.

Regardless of popularity, personal taste is more important and I happen to have a special affection for the theme and variations form. Accordingly, both the "Goldbergs" and the "Diabelli" are among my favorite pieces. Others include Beethoven's Eroica Variations, Schumann's Symphonic Etudes, Brahms' Handel Variations, and Rachmaninoff's Corelli Variations.
This is quite right both in terms of historical fact and personal taste. I love the Schumann and Brahms you mention.

maestrob
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Re: "Diabelli" and "Goldberg" Variations

Post by maestrob » Sun May 26, 2019 10:27 am

Rach3 wrote:
Sat May 25, 2019 9:10 am
Imogen Cooper's new recording of "Diabelli" on Chandos is discussed briefly here today on BBC Radio 3 Record Review staring at about 1:45:00 into the archived braodcast , as is Lars Vogt's Mozart Sonatas,Giltburg's Rachmaninoff Preludes, others:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m0005gtm
Strongly recommend the Imogen Cooper Diabelli Variations. Here's the over:

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barney
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Re: "Diabelli" and "Goldberg" Variations

Post by barney » Sun May 26, 2019 5:35 pm

Ricordanza wrote:
Sat May 25, 2019 6:20 am
Belle wrote:
Thu May 23, 2019 6:46 pm
Thoughts?
I'll give you two thoughts.

The theme and variations form is the most enduring of all musical forms. It predates the sonata and, perhaps, has outlasted it. Rzewski's "The People United" is one relatively contemporary example, Lutoslawski's "Paganini Variations" is another, and I am sure there are others. The endurance of this form is a fairly strong indication of its popularity with composers and audiences.

Regardless of popularity, personal taste is more important and I happen to have a special affection for the theme and variations form. Accordingly, both the "Goldbergs" and the "Diabelli" are among my favorite pieces. Others include Beethoven's Eroica Variations, Schumann's Symphonic Etudes, Brahms' Handel Variations, and Rachmaninoff's Corelli Variations.
Well said. I entirely agree. I also have a soft spot for most of the Mozart variations for solo piano.
Here from Wiki is the list of his piano variations, all of which I have but not all of which I can claim to know!
8 Variations in G major on the Dutch song "Laat ons Juichen, Batavieren!" by Christian Ernst Graaf, K. 24
7 Variations in D major on the Dutch song "Willem van Nassau"", K. 25
6 Variations in F major, K. 54/547b (Anh. 138a)
12 Variations in C major on a Menuet by Johann Christian Fischer, K. 179
6 Variations in G major on "Mio car Adone" from the opera "La fiera di Venezia" by Antonio Salieri, K. 180
9 Variations in C major on the arietta "Lison dormait" from the opera "Julie" by Nicolas Dezède, K. 264
12 Variations in C major on the French song "Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman", K. 265
8 Variations in F major on the choir "Dieu d'amour" from the opera "Les mariages samnites" by André Grétry, K. 352
12 Variations in E major on the French song "La belle Françoise", K. 353
12 Variations in E major on the Romance "Je suis Lindor" from "Le Barbier de Seville" by Pierre Beaumarchais, music by Antoine-Laurent Baudron, K. 354
6 Variations in F major on the aria "Salve tu, Domine" from the opera "I filosofi immaginarii" by Giovanni Paisiello, K. 398
10 Variations in G major on the aria "Unser dummer Pöbel meint" from "La rencontre imprévue" by Christoph Willibald Gluck, K. 455
8 Variations in A major on "Come un agnello" from "Fra i due litiganti il terzo gode" by Giuseppe Sarti, K. 460
12 Variations on an Allegretto in B♭ major, K. 500
9 Variations in D major on a Menuet by Jean-Pierre Duport, K. 573
8 Variations in F major on the song "Ein Weib ist das herrlichste Ding" from the Singspiel "Der dumme Gartner" by Benedikt Schack, K. 613

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Re: "Diabelli" and "Goldberg" Variations

Post by John F » Sun May 26, 2019 6:38 pm

John Francis

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Re: "Diabelli" and "Goldberg" Variations

Post by John F » Tue May 28, 2019 3:30 am

And one of my favorite pieces in any form that's not only delightful in itself but could be used as a teaching piece for people who don't yet know what classical music is all about. In this recording the soloist is the composer, who was nearly 80.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yEVMFKRMTyE
John Francis

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