Tablet - Portrait

Tablet - Landscape


Ludwig van Beethoven

The Variations in F Major, Op. 34, were dedicated to Princess Barbara Odescalchi, one of Beethoven's pupils and a very capable pianist. The set was begun in May, 1802, at about the same time Beethoven started work on the Variations in E flat, Op. 35. Both sets of variations were offered to Breitkopf & Härtel in October 1802.

The Variations, Op. 34, were innovative in that each of the six variations is in a different key. Beethoven directed his publisher to point out this novelty in the printed edition of the work. Furthermore, the fact that he gave the work an opus number attests to Beethoven's belief in the importance of the piece, in part because the theme was original. Overall, the set is an excellent example of the "improvisatory" side of Beethoven's variation technique. However, this characteristic of the piece does not necessarily indicate that variations are "written-out" improvisations, as opposed to compositionally "worked-out" ideas.

Beethoven's theme exhibits the typical Classical-era rounded (ABA') structure, although the central, contrasting melody is only six measures in length. The simple theme is in Beethoven's best "singing" style, marked cantabile and with an overall arch; turns and trills add a light, Mozartian delicacy to a relaxed atmosphere. Relaxation ceases at the beginning of the first variation, in D major (distant from F major). Beethoven seems to fill spaces in the original theme with as many notes as possible in this highly decorative variation. The central part of the theme is extended before the return of the first theme. A change of tempo signals the arrival of the second variation, set in B flat (much closer to F major) and 6/8 meter. Beethoven hacks the tune into pieces, placing one part in a low register and having the next skyrocket into a much higher register. Rapid movement is juxtaposed with nearly motionless chords as Beethoven, oddly, chooses to repeat the "B" and "A'" segments of the theme as a unit. The constant eighth note motion of the third variation thinly disguises the shape of the theme, now set in G major. A shift to E flat major brings with it the fourth variation and its more easily recognizable rendition of the theme, despite the triple meter. The central part of the theme appears simultaneously in octaves in the right hand and in fragments in the left. The key (C minor) and march tempo of the fifth variation look forward to the soon-to-be-composed second movement of the Third Symphony. At the end of this variation Beethoven moves from C minor to C major, creating the dominant of F major and preparing the way for the sixth and final variation. Beethoven's coda returns to the original Adagio tempo, the virtuosic writing enhancing his developmental presentation of the stepwise motion from the first two measures of the theme. The last few measures feature a return of the theme.