Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 4.djvu/245

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VARIATIONS.

��VARIATION b.

��229

��No composer had ever before attempted to produce variations on such principles as Bee- thoven did, and the art has hardly progressed in detail or in plan since his time ; but several composers have produced isolated examples, which are really musical and interesting. Schu- bert is particularly happy in the variations on the 'Tod und Madchen' theme in the D minor Quartet, in which there is great beauty of sound, charm of idea, and contrast of style, without anything strikingly original or ingenious in principle. Weber produced numbers of very effective and characteristic sets for pianoforte. Mendelssohn left one or two artistic works of the kind, of which the Variations serieuses ' is the best. In this set there are happy instru- mental effects, and the whole makes an effective pianoforte piece ; but Mendelssohn's view of this branch of art was only at the level of the simple standard of Mozart, and not even so free and spontaneous as Haydn's ; and in his application of melodic and structural principles he is ex- tremely strict. Far more interesting is Schu- mann's treatment of the form in such examples as the Andante and Variations for two pianos, and the well-known ' Etudes Symphoniques.' His view of the art tended to independence as much as Mendelssohn's did to rigidity, and at times he was even superfluously free in his rendering of the structural aspect of the theme. His devices are less noticeable for ingenuity than for the boldness with which he gives a thoroughly warm, free, and romantic version of the theme, or works up some of its characteristic figures 'into a movement of nearly equal proportions with it.

By far the finest variations since Beethoven are the numerous sets by Brahms, who is akin to Beethoven more especially in those character- istics of intellect and strong emphatic character, which seem to make variations one of the most natural modes of expressing ideas. In the Va- riations and Fugue on a . theme of Handel's (op. 24), the superb set for orchestra on a theme of Haydn (op. 56 a), those for four hands on a theme of Schumann's (op. 23), the two Paganini sets, and the fine set on an original theme in D (op. 21, no. i), he has not only shown complete mastery and perception of all aspects of the form, but a very unusual power of presenting his theme in different lights, and giving a most powerful individuality both of rhythm and figure to the several members of each series. His principles are in the main those of Beethoven, while he applies such de- vices as condensation of groups of chords, anticipations, inversions, analogues, sophistica- tion by means of chromatic passing notes, etc., with an elaborate but fluent ingenuity which sometimes makes the tracing of the theme in a variation quite a difficult intellectual exercise. But analysis almost always proves the treatment to be logical, and the general impression is sufficiently true to the theme in broad outline for the principle of the form to be intelligible. He uses double variations with the happiest

��effect, as in those on the theme by Haydn, where the characteristic repetition of halves is sometimes made specially interesting by building one variation upon another, and making the repetition a more elaborate version of the first form of each half of the variation. Where the variations are strongly divided from one another, and form a string of separate little pieces, the contrasts and balances are admirably devised. In some cases again the sets are specially noticeable for their continuity, and for the way in which one variation seems to glide into another ; while they are sometimes connected by different treatment of similar figures, so that the whole presents a happy impression of unity and completeness. Brahms is also, like Beethoven, most successful in his codas. Two very large ones are the fugue in the Handel set, and the fine, massive coda on a ground- bass derived from the first phrase of the theme, in the Haydn variations. Another on a large scale, but in different style, is that which concludes the Hungarian set (op. 21, no. 2.)

In the following examples which show the first four bars of the theme, and the correspond- ing portion of the third variation in the first Paga- nini set, the nature of several very characteristic devices, such as anticipation, insertion of new chords between essential points of the harmonic succession, doubling the variation by giving the repetition of each half in full, with new touches of effect, etc., is illustrated.

Ex. 26. J3.

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