George Grove.

A dictionary of music and musicians (A.D. 1450-1889) by eminent writers, English and foreign : with illustrations and woodcuts (Volume 4) online

. (page 52 of 194)
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aydn, who took on the whole a more serious
id original view of the form. True, he did not
rite nearly so many sets as his younger con-
:inporary, and several that he did write are of
le very slightest and most elementary kind —
Itness that which forms the last movement
' the Clavier Sonata in Eb, that on a tune
. ' Tempo di Minuetto ' in a sonata in A, and
lat in a sonata for clavier and violin in C. In
lese cases he is obviously not exerting himself
all, but merely treating the matter lightly
id easily. But when he set about his work
riously, it has fur more variety, interest, and
any-sided ingenuity than Mozart's. This is
e case with several of the sets in the string
lartets, and with the remarkable one for clavier
?ne in F minor, and the beautiful slow move-
1 3nt in the Sonata for Clavier and Violin in F.
le things most noticeable in these are the re-
' irkable freedom with which he treats his theme,
\ d the original means adopted to combine the
;'.3 into complete and coherent wholes. Prob-
^ly no one except Beethoven, Schumann, and
ahms took a freer view of the limits of
r variation ; the less essential chords and root
rmonies of the theme are frequently changed,
?n without the melody being preserved to

make up for the deviation, and in certain cases
whole passages appear to be entirely altered, and
to have little if any connection with the theme
beyond oliservance of the length of its prominent
periods, and the fact that the final cadences come
in the right forms and places. This occurs most
naturally in a minor variation of a major
theme, or vice versa, where a passage in the
relative major is made to correspond to a passage
in the dominant key, and the succession of
chords is necessarily altered to a different course
to make the passage flow back to the principal
key at the same place, both in variation and
theme. There is an extremely interesting
example of such changes in the slow move-
ment of the Quartet in Eb, No. 22 Trautwein.
The theme is in Bb, and the first variation in
Bb minor. The second half of the theme begins
in F, and has a whole period of eight bars,
closing in that key, before going back to Bb.
The corresponding part of the first variation
begins with the same notes transferred from first
violin to cello, and has the same kind of motion,
and similar free contrapuntal imitation ; but it
proceeds by a chain of closely interlaced modula-
tions through Eb minor and Ab, and closes in
Db. And not only that, but the portion which
corresponds to the resumption of the principal
idea begins in the original key in Db, and only
gets home to the principal key for the last phrase
of four bars, in which the subject again appears.
So that for eleven bars the variation is only con-
nected with the theme by the fact that the
successive progressions are analagous in major
and minor modes, and by a slight similarity in the
character of the music. This was a very im-
portant position to take up in variation-writing,
and by such action Haydn fully established
a much broader and freer principle of repre-
senting the theme than had been done before.
The following examples are respectively the first
eight bars of the second half of the theme, and
the corresponding portion of the 1st variation: —

Ex. 17.


(2) ^"*"



The other noticeable feature of Haydn's treat-
ment of the variation -form is iUustrated very
happily by the ' Andante con Variazioni ' in F
minor for clavier solo, and by the movement in
the F major sonata for clavier and violin ; both
showing how strongly he regarded the form as
one to be unified in some way or other beyond
the mere connection based on identity of struc-
ture or tune which is common to all the members
of the series. The first of these is reallj' a
set of variations on two themes ; since the prin-
cipal theme in the minor is followed by a slighter
one contrasting with it, in the major. The varia-
tions on these two themes alternate throughout,
and end with a repetition of the principal theme
in its original form, passing into an elaborate
coda full of allusions to its principal figures.
Thus there is a double alternation of modes and
of styles throughout binding the members to-
gether ; and the free development of the features
of the theme in the coda gives all the weight
and interest necessary to clench the work at the
end. The slow movement for clavier and violin
is somewhat different in system, but aims at
the same object. After the theme comes an
episode, springing out of a figure in the cadence
of the theme, and modulating to the dominant
and back ; then comes the first variation in full,
followed by another episode modulating to Bb,
with plenty of development of characteristic
figures of the theme, coming back (after about
the same length as the first episode) to a pause
on the dominant chord of the principal key, and
followed by another variation with demisemi-
quaver ornamental passages for the pianoforte.
Tins variation deviates a little at the end, and
pauses on the dominant chord again ; and then
the beautiful and serene theme is given out once
more in its original form. This is therefore an
ingenious kind of Rondo in the form of varia-
tions. The short contrasting episodes are quite
in Kondo-form, the only difference being that
the two middle repetitions of the theme are made
unusually interesting by appearing in a fresli
guise. One more point worth noting about
Haydn's works of this kind, is that some of his
themes are so rich and complex. In a few of
the sets in the quartets the theme is rot so
much a tune as a network of figures combined
in a regular harmonic scheme — see Ex. 17 ; and
the same holds true of the ' Andante con Varia-
zioni ' mentioned above, which is long, and full
of the most various and remarkable figures. It
may be said finally that there is no branch
of composition in which Haydn was richer and


more truly polyphonic than in his best sets of

Mozart, on the other hand, represents the ex-
treme of the melodic form of variations. If in
many of Haydn's slighter examples this ten-
dency was perceptible, in Mozart it comes to a
head. The variations which he makes purely
out of ornamental versions of the tune of the
theme, are at least four times as many as his
harmonic and more seriously conceived ones.
As has been said before, Mozart wrote far more
sets than Haydn, and manyof them were probably
pieces d'occasion — trifles upon which there was
neither tiine nor need to spend much thought,
It is scarcely too much to say moreover that
variation-writing was not Mozart's best province,
Two of his greatest gifts, the power of moulding
his form with the most refined and perfect ac-
curacy, and spontaneous melody, have here no full
opportunity. The themes which necessarily
decide the form are in many cases not his own,
and, except in rare instances, it does not seem to
have entered into his head to try to make new
and beautiful melodies on the foundation of theie
harmonic framework. He seems rather to hav^
aimed at making variations which would be
easily recognisable by moderately- gifted ama»
teurs ; and it must be allowed that it takes a
good deal of musical intelligence to see the
connection between a theme and a variation
which is well enough conceived to bear frequent
hearing. It is also certain that the finest varia-
tions have been produced by scarcely any buf
composers of a very deep and intellectual organ^
isation, like Beethoven, Bach, and Brahms
Mozart was gifted with the most perfect anc
refined musical organisation ever known; buti
he was not naturally a man of deep feeling 01
intellectuality, and the result is that his varia:
tion-building is neither impressive nor genuinel]
interesting. Its chief merits are delicate mani
pulation, illustrating the last phase of harpsi
chord-playing as applied to the Viennese typi
of pianoforte with shallow keys, and he obtain
the good balance in each set as a whole withou
any of Haydn's interesting devices. A certaii
similarity in the general plan of several of th-
independent sets suggests that he had a regula
scheme for laying out the succession of variationi
The earlier ones generally have the tune of th
theme very prominent ; then come one or tw
based rather more upon the harmonic framewori
so as to prevent the recurrence becoming wear
some ; .about two-thirds of the way through, if tb
theme be in the major, there will be a mine
variation, and vice versa ; then, in order to gi\
weight to the conclusion and throw it into relie
the last variation but one has a codetta of son
sort or an unbarred cadenza, or else there is a
unbarred cadenza dividing the last variation froi
the final coda, which usually takes up clear]
the features of the theme. These unbarred c
denzas are a characteristic feature of Mozart
sets of variations, and indicate that he regardf
them as show pieces for concerts and su(
occasions, since they are nothing but pure fingf





Durishes to show off the dexterity and neatness
' the performer. There are two — one of them
very long one — in the set on Paisiello's 'Salve
I Domine,' another long one in that on Sarti's
iJome un agnello,' a long one in that on ' Lison
jrmait,' and others of more moderate dimen-
ons in the sets on Gluck's ' Unser dummer
obel meint,' Mr. Duport's minuet, 'Je suis
indor,' and others. In his treatment of the
irmonic framework, Mozart is generally more
rict than Haydn, but he is by no means tied
f any sense of obligation in that respect, and
Ten makes excellent point out of harmonic di-
:ession. A most effective example, which con-
ins a principle in a nutshell, is his treatment
' the most characteristic phrase of 'Unser
immer Pobel ' in the fourth variation. The
irase is as follows : —

Ex.19. , _, _,

I I 1^

-•- -s^

5 this he gives a most amusing turn by, as it
ere, missing the mark by a semitone : —

Ex.20. . ^, — ,



en he goes on to the end of the half of the
iriation which contains the passage, and begins
again as if for repeat ; and then again over-
.oots the mark by a semitone : —

Ex.21. -— -

Irj A



here is probably no simpler example of an
irmonic inconsistency serving a definite pur-
3se in variations. In a less obvious way
lere are some in which very happy efiect is
Jtained by going an unexpected way round
Jtween one essential point of harmony and
lother, and in such refinements Mozart is most

When he introduces sets of variations into
■natas and such works as his Clarinet Quintet,
5 seems to have taken more pains with them ;
lere are proportionately more free and harmonic
iriatious among them; and the element of
i.ow illustrated by the unbarred cadenza is not so
•eminent. There are good examples of variety
" treatment and success in balancing the various
embers of the series in the variations in the
iie Sonata in F for violin and pianoforte. True,
'.e basis of the variations is for the most part
, elodic, but the principle is treated with more
lid effect than usual. The same remark ap-
ies to the last movement of the PF. Sonata in
, written in 1777. This contains some ex-
emely happy examples of the exclusive use of
,ie harmonic principle, as in the 9th variation,
. which the vigour and individuality of the
I VOL. IV. PT. 2.

figure give the variation all the appearance of
an independent piece. Similarly in the iitb.
Adagio cantabile, and in the last, in which the
time is changed from 4-4 to 3-4, the melody is
so devised as to appear really new, and not merely
the theme in an ornamental dress.

An excellent use to which Mozart frequently
puts variations is that of presenting the subjects
of sonata-movements in new lights, or adding to
their interest by new turns and ornaments when
they reappear a second or third time in the
course of the movement. One example is the
recurrence of the theme in the ' Rondo en Polo-
naise ' which forms the middle movement in the
Sonata in D just referred to. Another is the
slow movement of the well-known Sonata in
C minor, connected with the Fantasia in the
same key.

The cases in which Mozart ventured to give a
variation a thoroughly independent character
are rare. He seems to have thought it better
to keep always in sight of his theme, and though
he invented some charming and effective de-
vices which have been used by later composers,
as a rule the variations wait upon the theme
too subserviently, and the figures are often too
simple and familiar to be interesting. The follow-
ing (' Je suis Lindor') is a fair sample of his way
of ornamenting a tune : —

Ex. 22. Theme.













* * •

Beethoven's work forms an era in the history
of variation-maldng. It was a branch of art
eminently congenial to him; for not only did
his instinct for close thematic development
make him quick to see various ways of treating
details, but his mind was always inclined to
present the innermost core of his idea in dif-
ferent forms. This is evinced plainly enough
in the way in which he perfects his subjects.
His sketch-books show how ideas often came to
him in the rough ; and how, sometimes by slow
degrees, he brought them to that refined and
effective form which alone satisfied him. The
substratum of the idea is the same fi:om first to
last, but it has to undergo many alterations of
detail before he finds the best way to say it.
Even in this his practice differed extremely from
Mozart's, but in the treatment of the actual form
of ' Theme and variations ' it differed still more.
In principle Beethoven did not leave the line




taken up by the composers of the Sonata period,
but he brought the old and new principles more
to an equality than before, and was also very
much more daring in presenting his model in
entirely new lights. The proportion of purely
ornamental variations in his works is small ; and
examples in which the variations follow the
theme very closely are more conspicuous in the
early part of his life than later ; but even among
such comparatively early examples as the first
movement of the Sonata in Ab (op. 26), or the
still earlier ones in the Sonata in G (op. 14,
no. 2), and the set on Eighini's air, there is a
fertility of resource and imagination, and in the
last case a daring independence of style which
far outstrips anything previously done in the
eame line.

In some sets the old structural principle is
once more predominant, as in the well-known
32 in C minor (1806), a set which is as much of
a Chaconne as any by Corelli, Bach, or Handel.
The theme is in chaconne time, and the strong
steps of the bass have the old ground-bass
character. It is true he uses the melody of
the theme in one or two instances — it would be
almost impossible to avoid it at a time when
melody counted for so much ; but in the large
majority the variation turns upon the structural
system of the harmonies. Among other points
this set is remarkable as a model of coherence ;
almost every variation makes a perfect comple-
ment to the one that precedes it, and sets it off
in the same way. In several cases the varia-
tions are grouped together, externally as well as
in spirit, by treating the same figures in dif-
ferent ways; as happens with the isfc, 2nd and
3rd, with the 7th and 8th, and with the 26th
and 27th and others. The 12 th marks a new
departure in the series, being the first in the
major, and the four that follow it are closely
connected by being variations upon that varia-
tion ; while at the same time they form the
single block in the major mode in the whole
eeries. Every variation hangs together as closely
as those in Bach's great set of thirty by the
definite character of the figures used, while the
wiiole resembles that set in the vigour of the

In most of the other remarkable sets tlie prin-
ciples of treatment are more mixed. For in-
stance, in that on the Ballet Air from the ' Men
of Prometheus,' some have a technical interest
like Bach's, and some have an advanced orna-
mental character after the fashion of Mozart's.
Among ingenious devices which may fairly be
taken as types, the sixth variation is worth
noting. The tune is given intact at most avail-
able points in its original pitch and original
form, but the harmonies are in a different key.
A marked feature in the series is that it has an
introduction consisting merely of the bass of the
theme, and three variations on that are given
before the real theme makes its appearance ; as
happens also in the last movement of the Eroica
Symphony, which has the same subject, and some
of the same variations, but is not a set of varia-


tions in the ordinary sense of the word, since it
has various episodes, fugal and otherwise, as ia
the movement from Haydn's violin and piano-
forte sonata described on p. 22.^.

Others of Beethoven's sets have original ex-
ternal traits ; such as the set in F (op. 34), in
which all the numbers are in difierent keys ex-
cept the theme and the two last variations, the
others going in successive steps of minor thirds
downwards. The variations themselves are for
the most part based on the melody, but a most
ingenious variety of character is kept up through-
out, partly by changing the time in each sue*

The sets so far alluded to belong to the early i
or middle period of Beethoven's life, but the
finest examples of his work of this kind belong
to the last period, such as those in the Quartet
in Eb, and the variations ' In modo lidico' in the
Quartet in A (op. 132), those in the Trio in Bb,;
in the Sonatas in E (op. IC9), and C minor (op.i
III), the two in the 9th Symphony, and the'
thirty-three on the valse by Diabelli. These
last five are the finest and most interesting ifl
existence, and illustrate all manner of ways of
using the form. In most cases the treatment
of the theme is very free, and is sometimes
complicated bj' the structure of the movement,
In the slow movement of the 9th Symphony f<
instance the theme and variations are inte;
spersed with episodes formed on a different sub-
ject and by passages of development based oa
the principal theme itself. In the choral part
the variations are simply based upon the idea,
each division con-esponding to a variation being
really a movement made out of a varied version
of the theme adapted in style to the sentiment of
the words, and developed without regard to the I
structure of the periods or plan of the tune. i

The sets in the two Sonatas are more strict,
and the harmonic and structural variations are i
in about equal proportions. Their coherence is
quite as strong as that of the thirty-two in C
minor, or even stronger ; while there is infinitely
more musical interest in them. In fact, there is
a romantic element which colours each set and
gives it a special unity. The individual char-
acter given to each variation is as strong as pos-
sible, and such as to give it an interest of its
own beyond its connection with the theme ;
while it is so managed that whenever the free-
dom of style has a tendency to obliterate the
sense of the theme, a variation soon follows in
which the theme is brought forward clearly
enough to re-establish the sense of its presence
as the idea from which the whole series springs.
The set in op. 109 is an excellent model of the
most artistic way of doing this, without the
device being so obvious as it is in the works of
the earlier masters. The first variation has such
a marked melody of its own that it necessarily
leads the mind away from the theme. But tht
balance is re-established by the next variation,
which is a double one, the repeats of the theme
being given with different forms of variations
severally like and unlike the original. The nexl


irlatJon is also double, but in a different sense,
le repeats being given in full with different
eatment of the same figures. Moreover the
ilance is still kept up, since the first half is
liefly structural, and the second resumes the
leloJy of the theme more clearly. The next
vo are more obscure, and therefore serve all
le better to enhance the effect of the very clear
lappearance of the theme in the final variation,
his plan of making double variations was a
.vourite one with Beethoven, and he uses it
jain in the fourth variation in op. iii, and in
le DiabeUi set. In op. iii it is worth noticing
lat there is an emotional phase also. The first
vo variations gradually work up to a vehement
imax, culminating in the third. After this
itburst there comes a wonderful stillness in the
urth (9-16), like the reaction from a crisis of
\ssion, and this stillness is maintained through-
it, notwithstanding the two very different man-
ers of the double variation. Then there is a
)detta and a passage wandering through mazes
r curious short transitions, constantly hinting at
^ures of the theme ; out of which the theme
self emerges at last, sailing with wind and tide
I perfect fruition of its freedom ; the last varia-
on of all seems to float away into the air as the
me sings through the haze of shakes and rapid
ght passages that spin round it, and the whole
ads in quiet repose. In such a sense Beethoven
ave to his variations a dramatic or emotional
jxture, which may be, by those who under-
;and it, felt to be true of the innermost workings
F their emotions, but can hardly be explained

I words.

Technically the most remarkable set of all is
lat of thirty-three on the Diabelli valse. In
lis appear many traits recalling those in Bach's
5t of thirty. For instance, there is a fugetta,
ist in the structural mould of the theme ; there
re imitative variations, of thoroughly modern
^'pe ; and there are also examples of the imi-
itions being treated by inversion in the second
alf, as was the manner of Bach. But in style
Lere is little to recall the methods of the older
laster, and it is useless to try and lay down
ard and fast technical rules to explain the
etailed connection of theme and variation. In

II these last sets, and in the Diabelli set espe-
ially, Beethoven is making transformations
ither than variations. He takes the theme in
11 its phases — harmonic, melodic, or rhythmic —
nd having the idea well in his mind, reproduces
. with unlimited variety in different aspects.
Lt one moment a variation may follow the me-
)dy of the theme, at another the harmonic
;ructure, at another it will be enough that some
lecial trait like the persistence of an inner por-
on of the harmony in thirds or othei-wise is
jproduced, as in the second phrase of Variation
To. 8. At other times he will scarcely do more
lan indicate clearly the places where the ca-
ences and signs of the periods fall, as in Varia-
on 13, with the long pauses ; while at other times

1 e works by nothing more than analogy, as in
iie relations of the end of the first half and



beginning of the second half of Variation i;, and
the beginnings of the second halves of Nos. 9,
13, and 22. In other cases there are even more
complicated reasons for the connection. An ex-
ample occurs as early as the first variation. The
strong type of figure, moving by diatonic steps,
adopted at the beginning, is worked out in
longer reaches in the second half, until it forces
the harmony away from the lines of the theme
into short transitional digressions. These occur
in two successive periods, which are brought
round again and rendered externally as well as
ideally intelligible by the way in which the
periods are made to match. In a few other
cases nothing but the strong points of the
periods are indicated, and the hearer is left in
doubt till he hears the strong cadence of the
period, and then he feels himself at home again
directly, but only to be immediately bewildered
by a fresh stroke of genius in a direction where
he does not expect it. The happiest example of
this is Variation 13, already alluded to, which is
principally rhythmic, just indicating by a sort of
suggestion here and there a humorous version of
the theme, and making all the progressions seem
absurdly wrong at first sight, though they come
perfectly right in the end. The two following
examples are the first halves of the theme and
of Variation 13 : —

Ex. 23. (TUeme.)


f »/

■ J I , 1 1— • 1- -d— •-JGt—

Online LibraryGeorge GroveA dictionary of music and musicians (A.D. 1450-1889) by eminent writers, English and foreign : with illustrations and woodcuts (Volume 4) → online text (page 52 of 194)