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BEETHOVEN DIABELLI VARIATIONS, OP 120



The Beethoven Diabelli Variations always mak me think of a giant oak tree growing out of a tiny acorn. As the story goes, Diabelli approached Beethoven with the proposition that he join a number of other composers (fifty-one in all were invited to contribute) in composing a variation on a waltz Diabelli himself had written. Beethoven declined, declaring the project to be beneath him. He then proceeded to compose thirty-three variations on Diabelli's little waltz. This hour long exercise in the form stands shoulder to shoulder with the most magnificent essays of its kind ever penned.

I include variations supplied by some of the better known composers. These are available to be heard at the end of this page.

As with everything else these days, there are numerous recordings of the Beethoven Diabelli Variations available. Given that the work is so long, I will eschew my usual offering of most of the recordings I can find and limit my choices to wonderful performances and those I might perhaps enjoy less but are the work of historically important pianists.

Interestingly, and most unusually, I find performances by contemporary pianists often more more satisfying. It is as though they hear what Beethoven must have heard in Diabelli's little waltz, and in his inner ear, the potential for drama and excitement that drove Beethoven to compose what is, in my opinion, one of the great masterpieces of the solo piano repertoire.

I would like to point out the performance of the Beethoven Diabelli Variations by Leonard Shure, one of the great pianists whose name and playing is so sadly unknown to most music lovers. I love Sokolov's performance, and I find Richter-Haaser's very compelling, especially in the slower movements in which the forward impetus of this great work never lags. And to my great surprise, i find the Barenboim performance really quite splendid.

But the performance of the Beethoven Diabelli Variations that is closest to my heart is the one by Beth Levin, a superb pianist, student of Marian Filar, Rudolf Serkin, Leonard Shure, and Dorothy Taubman, whose name should be on the playbill of every serious musical venue from coast to coast. 









ARTHUR FRIEDHEIM
Russian pianist (1859-1932)

1910 piano roll of Theme and Var 1-10




ARTUR SCHNABEL
German pianist (1882-1951)

recorded in 1937




WILHELM BACKHAUS
German pianist (1884-1969)

recorded in 1954



Part I  Theme and Var 1-6




Part II  Var 7-13




Part III  Var 14-21




Part IV  Var 22-27




Part V  Var 28-33 [missing]




MIECZYSŁAW HORSZOWSKI
Polish-American pianist(1892-1993)

recorded in 1951




MARIA YUDINA
Soviet pianist (1899-1970)

recorded in 1961




CLAUDIO ARRAU
Chilean pianist (1903-1991)

recorded live in New York in 1952




RUDOLF SERKIN
Bohemian-born American pianist (1903-1991)


recorded live at the Casals Festival in Prades in 1954




recorded live in Londan in 1969




EUNICE NORTON
American pianist (1908-2005)


recorded in 1977




recorded live at the Peacham Festival in Vermont in 1982




recorded live in her Pittsburgh studio in 1989




LEONARD SHURE
American pianist (1910-1995)

recorded in 1948




HANS RICHTER-HASAAR
German pianist (1912-1980)


Part I  Theme and Var 1-8




Part II  Var 9-20




Part III  Var 21-30




Part IV  Var 31-33




SVIATOSLAV RICHTER
Soviet pianist (1915-1997)


recorded live in 1951


Part I




Part II




Part III




Part IV




Part V




recorded live in 1986




GÉZA ANDA
Hungarian pianist (1921-1976)


Part I  Theme and Var 1-10




Part II  Var 11-19




Part III  Var 20-29




Part IV  Var 30-33




MARGARITA FYODOROVA
Russian pianist (b 1920s)

recorded ca1978




TATIANA NIKOLAYEVA
Russian pianist (1924-1993)

recorded in 1979




FRIEDRICH GULDA
Austrian pianist (1930-2000)

recorded in 1978




ALFRED BRENDEL
Austrian Pianist (b 1931)


Part I  Theme and Var 1-11




Part II  Var 12-21




Part III  Var 22-29




Part IV  Var 30-33




JOHN BROWNING
American pianist (1933-2003)


Part I  Theme and Var 1-20




Part II  Var 21-33




VLADIMIR ASHKENAZY
Russian-Icelandic pianist (b 1937)

[ plus 12 variations, WoO 71
1 Andante grazioso, quasi allegretto from 7 Bagatelles, Op 33 ]




STEPHEN KOVACEVICH
American pianist (b 1940)

recorded ca1968




MAURIZIO POLLINI
Italian pianist (b 1942)

recorded in 1998


Part I  Theme and Var 1-15




Part II  Var 16-33




DANIEL BARENBOIM
Agentine-Israeli pianist (b 1942)


Part I  Theme and Var 1-10




Part II  Var 11-19




Part III  Var 20-27




Part IV  Var 28-31




Part V  Var 32-33




DANIEL HOEXTER
Israeli pianist (b 1945)

recorded in Zurich in 1988




GERARD WILLEMS
Dutch-born Australian pianist (b 1946)




RUDOLF BUCHBINDER
Austrian pianist (b 1946)




PETER SERKIN
American pianist (b 1947)

@ 40:40 [preceded by Beethoven  Piano Sonata 30 in E major, Op 109]

taped live in Japan in 2002




BETH LEVIN
American pianist (b 1950)




GRIGORY SOKOLOV
Russian pianist  (b 1950)

recorded lin in St. Petersburg in 1985




VLADIMIR FELTSMAN
Russian pianist (b 1952)

[ plus Andante favori, WoO 57 ]




ANDRAS SCHIFF
Hungarian-born British pianist (b 1953)

recorded live in Naples in 2011




ANDREAS STAIER
German pianist (b 1955)

recorded on a fortepiano




PIOTR ANDERSZEWSKI
Polish pianist (b 1969)




VESTARD SHIMKUS
Latvian pianist (b 1984)

Video recorded live in Germany in 2014




Diabelli Variations  Vaterländischer Künstlerverein
performed by Ian Fountain, English pianist (b ca1970)

Theme (Anton Diabelli)
00:51  Variation V4 by Carl Czerny
01:56  Variation V16 by Johann Nepomuk Hummel (S 161)
03:22  Variation V21 by Conradin Kreutzer
04:21  Variation V24 by Franz Liszt (S 147)
05:30  Variation V26 by Ignaz Moscheles
06:43  Variation V28 by Franz Xaver Mozart
08:12  Variation V38 by Franz Schubert (D 718)
10:07  Coda by Carl Czerny




For those of you who enjoy murder mysteries, here is my first with a strong musical polemic as background

Murder in the House of the Muse

which is also available as an audiobook.



And this is the more recently published second mystery in the series:

Murder Follows the Muse



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