Saturday, October 10, 2015
- Beethoven: Variations on a Waltz by Diabelli, Op. 120
Paul Berkowitz, piano
Notes on the Program
by Betty Oberacker
One of the highlights of Santa Barbara Music Club’s concerts is the opportunity for audiences to hear great music from a variety of historical periods, with a diversity of musical forms, performed by excellent artists. This concert features pianist Paul Berkowitz, UCSB Professor and Head of the Keyboard Program, in a concert featuring a seldom-performed masterpiece, the Thirty-three Variations on a Waltz by Diabelli, Op. 120, by Ludwig van Beethoven.
The piano works of Beethoven’s Late Period include six Piano Sonatas and the so-called “Diabelli Variations.” These variations were the composer’s entry in a competition sponsored by the publisher Anton Diabelli: it seems that Diabelli circulated his waltz to 50 composers of the time, each of whom was requested to compose one variation – the project of course being designed to generate publicity for Diabelli’s publishing company. And it is typical of Beethoven, then in his last decade, to have submitted not one, but a tour de force of 33 magnificent variations on Diabelli’s silly little waltz theme – thus conceiving a veritable microcosm of the art of improvisation.
Considered one of the greatest sets of variations for the keyboard, along with Bach’s Goldberg Variations, the work has inspired effusive praise from noted musical authorities: critic Martin Cooper has written, “The variety of treatment is almost without parallel, so that the work represents a book of advanced studies in Beethoven’s manner of expression and his use of the keyboard, as well as a monumental work in its own right;” composer Arnold Schönberg termed the Diabelli “in respect of their harmony, deserve to be called the most adventurous work by Beethoven;” and pianist Alfred Brendel commented, “The theme has ceased to reign over its unruly offspring. Rather, the variations decide what the theme may have to offer them. Instead of being confirmed, adorned and glorified, it is improved, parodied, ridiculed, disclaimed, transfigured, mourned, stamped out, and finally uplifted.”