Based on the Reference:董學渝. The Studies of Beethoven Diabelli Variations and Thirty-Two Variations in C Minor. 全音音樂出版社, 1992.
From 1782 when the nine variations were firstly written for the piano movement in Nine Variations on a March by Dressler woo.63 onward, Beethoven seemed to be fond of using variations, a conventional compositional practice, for his compositions until his last string quartet op.135 in 1826. In fact, throughout his life long career, Beethoven has composed various genres of instrumental work including Theme-and-Variations, and lengthy compositions of more than sixty pieces with variation movements. These works include symphony, piano sonata and string quartet, such as Sonata op.26, op.109, op.111, Symphony no. 9 in D minor, and the late quartets op.127, op.131, op.132 and op.135. Even in Beethoven’s late style, the last six string quartets in particular, never fails to reflect his profound nostalgia on the fading classical beauty and elegance exhibiting in the form of variation for some movements. Unlike those variation movements in a multi-movements piece, the Diabelli Variations op.120, is Beethoven’s last large-scale Theme-and-Variations for solo piano.
In Beethoven’s early compositional career before 1799, he has already composed twelve pieces of Theme-and-Variations for solo piano. During this period, Beethoven favored to employ popular tunes, such as an aria of the current opera, as the main theme, and varied it in a free quasi-improvisatory way, aiming to display his technical skills and compositional talents. This is a common performance practice in the classical period, since composers did not possess independent financial sources other than patronized support. They needed to display their music capabilities in the court gatherings or salon concerts, in order to attract commissions or careers from the aristocratic circle. Playing brilliant variations on the keyboard based on the given theme became an “examination” for the musicians in the classical period.
After 1800, Beethoven began to write his own theme for variations. This demonstrates that Beethoven no longer treated variation just as a game of courtly entertainment or a prerequisite of one’s prospect, but an artistic expression of a real gifted artist. Six Variations in F Major op.34 and Eroica Variations in Eb Major op.35 for piano solo written in this period are exemplar of Beethoven’s stylistic change. He even put his own heroic “portrait” in these works, expressing none of the structural order of the classicism, but reflecting his imaginative ideas and romantic emotions through every nuance of the sonic picture. Hence, the achievement of these two sets of piano variations are claimed to be parallel with his remarkable middle-period symphonic works, which marked Beethoven to be one of the greatest masters in the music history.
Beethoven’s own idiosyncratic “Oedipus Rex” on the Baroque elegance came from his Thirty-Two Variations in C minor woo.80 written in 1806. He employed chaconne, an almost outmoded Baroque stylistic dance, as the main musical form for Cm Variations. The entire work is developed from the ostinato recurring in the bass. Each variation, being created with different melodic lines, aims to constitute a complex contrapuntal fabric, which never fails to exhibit Beethoven’s audacity and inventiveness. If one claims that it was Beethoven’s deafness to move him relying on writing contrapuntally, this would only overlook the significance of Baroque polyphonic beauty and Beethoven’s own nostalgic passion on the conventional counterpoint. Thirty-two variations in Cm woo.80, thus, is regarded as the forerunner of the great piano variation composition, Diabelli, appearing a few years later.
Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations op.120 was composed between a rather long period of five years from 1819 to 1823. Hence, there is no surprise that the work is pervaded with late Beethovean compositional style. In Beethoven’s later life, after experiencing a series of pains and sufferings, he valued spiritual sublimity in lieu of the superficial formalistic shackle by means of his several master works such as Missa Solemnis, Piano Sonata op. 109, op.110 and op.111. Through his music, Beethoven attained a level that reflects his profound understanding of the natural human desire – longing for approaching God – was lofty transcended. The Diabelli Variations op. 120 can be regarded as such music. When the time this Variation was composed, Beethoven’s tragic life reached the zenith. He was almost deaf. He was fiercely sick. He was fully exhausted because of the notoriety of his adopted son, the ex-nephew Carl. But even being faced with the most serious adversity, Beethoven the composer never lost the jewel in his crown. His late style music showed that he was unrestrained from the outer bondage of the imposed formalism, stepping into a more inner, imaginative world of spiritual realm. Diabelli Variations is such a musical work that not only did Beethoven crystallize the classical tribute, but he also created a Romantic legacy for the future coming generations. In this work, Beethoven ingenuously incorporated a dualistic style that is a well blending composite of classical melodic eloquence and Baroque contrapuntal beauty, but at the same time, not losing the Romantic sound of multifarious colors. Therefore, it is no surprise that Beethoven music can be regarded as “circum-polar”, according to the renowned musicologist, Carl Dahlhaus. Tovey, another well-known English music commentator, also asserted that “Beethoven’s Diabelli is an unprecedented piano work, which can be said as one of the greatest theme-and-variation compositions that will remain influential for many later coming eras.”
The use of “turn” figure aims to embellish the thematic melody can express the tender and delicate characters of Beethoven’s individual compositional style. Such melodic figuration often permeates an aura of classical grace, elegance and eloquence to audience. Typical examples of such variations can be found in no. 3, 4, 11, 12, 18, 21 and the coda.
Beethoven favors to employ such compositional devices to display his passionate fury, at times parodic, and at the other times, seriously designed.
The examples of using these devices are as follows:
Trill figure: Variation no. 6, 16, 21
Arpeggiation: Variation no. 6, 7, 19, 25
Running Scalar Passage: Variation no. 10, 22, 23, 27, 31 and 32.
Beethoven’s unique compositional skill is to cut off a detached, short motive from the main theme to developing the whole piece. The advantage of a short motive is its impressive and catchy nature. One example can be found in Variation no. 9.
Beethoven also likes to create a singable, lyrical melody, also because of its catchy and memorable nature, to form part of the variation. No matter the variation is based on a short, decisive motive or a lengthy cantabile melody, Beethoven displayed it in a catchy solo, or elaborated it with contrapuntal lines, constituting a sonic fabric. Examples are found in Variation no. 3, 4, 11, 12.
Beethoven, as an inventive composer, never forgets to create something new and fresh for his compositions, even for the theme and variations. As such, there is no surprise that Beethoven creates new melodic themes and motives for his Diabelli Variations, sustaining the fresh, impressive characters of the music. Examples are no. 8, 12, 18, 27, 30 and 31.
The rhythmic complex aims to expand a wide range of rhythmic patterns to each variation.
The function of rapid change of rhythmic pattern is for the purpose of adding dramatic and coloristic effects to the variations, as well as creating a shift of meters or metrical accents of the music structure.
Create syncopation with tie notes across bar line to create an effect of sluggish motion, disrupting the regular rhythmic flowing, for instance, Variation no. 3, 4, 5, 7, 9, 15, 19, and the coda.
Use syncopated rhythmic pattern to create an illusion of shift of metrical accents, for example, Variation no. 2.
Beethoven intentionally uses chromatic altered chords to enhance the dramatic and coloristic effects.
Several examples employing diminished seventh chord to create non-functional harmonic motion, tonal ambiguity and rapid shift of tonicized levels are Variations no. 3, 4, 11, 12.
Flattened Second, a chromatic device favored by Schubert, whether appearing in the level of chord or key, is an effective device to create a feeling of Romantic “Distance”, which is in fact an aesthetic philosophy commonly found in the late coming Romantic compositions, such as Schumann’s piano cycle, Papillon op.2. Beethovan’s Variation no. 5, 9, 30 in Diabelli foreshadows such aesthetic significance.
It is a long tradition for music to express emotions and passions with a running chromatic scalar passage. Variation no.9, 20, 22 are typical examples to enhance a similar effect.
Beethoven employs sudden dynamic markings to vary the melody, in order to create a dramatic effect. Indeed, dramatic contrast is one of Beethoven’s musical characteristics. His brilliant fanfare-like propelling piano sonority is largely based on the pianistic idiom of ongoing changes of dynamics and tempos. Music under the support of such idiomatic passages can widen the expressiveness of the work.
The use of the dynamic markings of “pp” and “fp” tends to bring out the classical style of grace and elegance. Variation no. 2, 3, 4, 8, 21, 33 and the coda are the exemplar.
Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations op. 120, is regarded as a great master work of the same generic repertoire. Through this work, we can experience how Beethoven exploits his unrestrained imagination and strict-disciplined convention, attaining a transcended spiritual state, which is a realm of no ancestor ever enters. Its influences are tremendous and long-lasting. No matter it is Schumann’s famous Symphonic Etudes, or Brahms’s Variations on a Theme of Handel, these works follow the traits established by Beethoven to develop the genre to the full. 19th century composers even employed various variation techniques to enrich the musical garden, helping to develop a brilliant era of Romanticism, which is an important phase of the evolution of the entire western music history.
One student gave me her draft of the answer for a question about the set piece of the AMusTCL examination. As I find that this is a good opportunity for me to share a view on how a student can make the argument better when dealing with the essay question, I rework her writing for reference, hoping that readers and students can grasp an idea of how to answer effectively in order to meet the requirement of the examination.
AMusTCL 2010 May: Set Piece – Symphony no.5 in Bb major by Schubert
To what extend does Schubert’s Symphony no.5 reflect the past and yet also herald the future?
Give specific examples in support of your answer.
From the preliminary inspection, Schubert’s Symphony no. 5 not only follows the typical Classical four-movement plan, comprising the Sonata-allegro first and finale movements in Bb major home key, as well as the Slow second and Minuet-Trio-Minuet third movements in Eb sub-dominant major and G sub-mediant minor; but also employs a comparatively small instrumentation without the usual trumpets and timpani, aiming to reflect the ineffable lightness of the chamber-like “pre-classical” sound. To many scholars, this work is said to be under the strong influence of Mozart’s Symphony no. 40 in G minor, K.550, expressing Schubert’s sincere reverence for the past great symphonic masters in the Viennese Biedermeire period (a period of revival of the classical beauty in arts) around 1816. However, Schubert’s idiosyncratic uses of chromatic median relationship and rich chromatic harmonies in setting the tonal structures of the movements can also show that this taken-for-granted ‘classical’ sound is tinted with a few colored spots, which are some signs of, as they were, heralding the forthcoming nineteenth century German Romanticism. Some evidences of the symphony will be discussed to support my argument.
Except for returning the principal theme in subdominant key in the Recapitulation and adding an additional 16 bars of new materials before the final coda, Schubert employs the conventional sonata form for the first movement, and begins his pursuit of the esteemed classical past by means of the light-hearted upward projecting tonic triad as the principal theme (mm.5-6). The secure manifestation of the tonic-dominant relationship between the principal and secondary themes in the exposition, together with the use of sequences as the chief developing devices never fails to display Schubert’s nostalgia of the classical heydays. Audiences are easily recalled the classical beauty of elegance and grace through the lively flowing of the dance-like thematic tune. In the opening of the Slow movement, Schubert uses pure strings to express a somewhat light and transparent simplicity (mm.1-8). The pastoral folk tune sings naturally through the less-weighted chamber-like accompaniment, seemingly to suggest a Mozartian aria in the sense that the air-light melody reigns supreme and that one could sings through (cantabile) (mm.1-8).
In the third movement of Haydian courtly dance, Minuet and Trio, Schubert adopts the same key (G minor), as well as the same style of tune, as Mozart did in the third movement of G minor Symphony K550. By alluding to the great master, the musical style turns out to be more Mozartian to some extent, yet reflecting the classical milieu in an anxious way. Does Schubert feel the anxiety of influence when he realizes that this Mozartian apprenticeship is appearing in the music? Thanks to his holding on to the classical Empfinsamkeit Stile. Schubert employs a gloomy, however fearful, full diminished seventh chord immediately to line up with the previous contrasting brilliant rocket monophonic tutti rushing upward in the opening phrase (mm.1-5). As the straightforward musical balance is seemingly broken down suddenly, audiences are easily reminded of a widely spread aesthetic principle, the illusion of order, which is an important classical ideal emphasis on how music operates its turbulence and irregularity behind an orderly and straightforward surface. In addition, the sunny G major key in the Trio section also enhances the contrasting G minor key of the somber, yet stormy, Minuet section, and further upholds the classical ideal of illusion of order. Last but not least, Schubert’s remembrance of the past can be experienced in the finale by means of using the conventional sonata form again. Symmetrical phrases, chamber style textures, and symmetrical melodic theme in the exposition may simply suggest how Schubert can skillfully adopt and adapt the past stylistic features so as to exhibit this symphony as the classical prestige (mm.1-16).
However, from the close inspection, Schubert’s using of his own characterized chromatic devices seems to voice the Romantic future to some extent. As an initiator of German Lied, Schubert often uses remote keys in the modulation in order to express his subtle changes of emotion in many of his songs. Similarly, one can never fail to find such adventurous modulation in the sub-surface of this symphony. One of the most significant examples can be found in the development section of the first movement. Here, instead of using the conventional cycle of fifth relationship to display the motives in various keys, Schubert uses median relationship to create four modulatory harmonic sequences, in order to develop the principal motives (mm.118-136). In the Rondo sections of the second movement, for instance, Schubert further exploits his personal favorite of mediant relationship by changing it to the chromatic mediant relationship, which consists of bVI (Cb major) and bIII (Gb major) keys contrasting with the Eb home key in the couplets. Apart from the frequent uses of augmented sixth chords and diminished seventh chords, Neapolitian sixth (flattened second), a Schubertian chord of sorrow and grief used in many art songs, are employed boldly in the linking passage of this movement, so as to produce a sudden dramatic gloomy feeling (bars 24-25). A long cadential extension with repeated deceptive cadences (V – bVI) can also be found in the last coda passage (mm.128-136). Such use of prolonged deceptive cadential setting aims to express the subtle change of the composer’s feelings and moods, which in fact, a salient stylistic trait of Romantic expression found in many compositions of the later decade. In the development of the last movement, chromatic inflected motivic tetrachord is used (m.184), so as to contrast with the opening motivic tetrachord in diatonic nature (m.1) for producing a deep emotion, and both of the dramatic and symphonic effects.
From the examples mentioned above, we can see how Schubert’s Bb symphony shows the reminiscence of the Classical past, and while at the same time, anticipates the Romantic future.
David Leung (theorydavid)
前言: 當我們常說Haydn的性格充滿幽默，反影在他的音樂裡時，可曾想過，脾氣火爆的貝多芬，在為音樂時也常常偷借前人，有時是 Mozart，有時是 Haydn 的寫作風格。所以，貝先生的作品，有時都幾幽默。讓我們看看一例。
The opening of the sonata op. 14 no. 2 in G major always obsesses listeners for four measures are mistakenly inserted in a wrong place. This illusion largely lies in the use of a series of synopated motive, chopping the metrical accent of the time. The right set of such witty effect by the melodic figure falling on the structural on-beat is attained in measure 5.
Any attempt by the performer to clear the matter up immediately by accentuating the first beats in the first four measures would be misguided. It would not only spoil Beethoven’s jest, it would also ruin his intentionaly designed coda. Indeed Beethoven sets the witty rhythmic pattern of the main motive right straight in this cautious, yet elabortive, concluding passage to expressive.
Listeners are not only no longer puzzled by the beat, but also the expansive possibilities inherent in the motive. The original joke is in the style of Haydn, but the cantibile coda is of Beethoven’s own. But one would see as if Beethoven is indebted to Mozart for the practice of using the coda to set right the previous eccentricities of the materials.
The first movment has a development section surprisingly long and elaborate for so modest a work, as long as the exposition. It also includes a Haydnean habit of false recapitulation which fools no one since it is in E Flat Major. The cadential theme of the exposition, marked ‘dolce’, has a memorably popular character and is supported by an intensely expressive bass line.
The Andante slow movement is a set of variations in an ostentatiously simple style that recalls many of the modest sets by Mozart. The ending is a joke in Haydnean style. It consists of a sudden crash of ff after pp chords with rests. This chicanery is seen in Haydn’s sonata in G major Hob. XVI/40, where soft staccato single notes are interrupted, forte, by a brusque arpeggiated seven-note chord. Perhaps, Haydn’s humor was so down to the earth on his day that Beethoven could easily adapt to mock the courty dilettantes silently.
The finale, a Scherzo marked ‘Allegro assai’, also opens by fooling the listeners as to the place of the mearure line. It is in pastoral, even rustic style, with drone bagpipe effects. Stylistically it is akin to some of the more humorous bagtelles that Beethvoen wrote both early and late in life.
David Leung (theorydavid)