Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 4.djvu/242

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page needs to be proofread.


226

��VARIATIONS.

��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 Righini'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 same 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 1st, 2nd and 3rd, with the 7th and 8th, and with the 26th and 2 7th and others. The I2th 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 series. 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 whole resembles that set in the vigour of the style.

In most of the other remarkable sets the 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-

��VARIATIONS.

tions in the ordinary sense of the word, since it has various episodes, fugal and otherwise, as in the movement from Haydn's violin and piano- forte sonata described on p. 223.

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 different 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 suc- cessively.

The sets so far alluded to belong to the early 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. 109), and C minor (op. in), the two in the 9th Symphony, and the thirty-three on the valse by DiabeLli. These last five are the finest and most interesting in 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 by the structure of the movement. In the slow movement of the gth Symphony for instance the theme and variations are inter- spersed with episodes formed on a different sub- ject and by passages of development based on the principal theme itself. In the choral part the variations are simply based upon the idea, each division corresponding 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 structure of the periods or plan of the tune.

The sets in the two Sonatas are more strict, and the harmonic and structural variations are 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 the 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 next

�� �