Introduzione col Basso del Tema: Allegretto vivace
Tema: Allegretto vivace
Variation 7: Canone all'ottava
Variation 14: Minore
Variation 15: Maggiore. Largo
Finale: Alla Fuga. Allegro con brio. Andante con moto
Often referred to as the "Eroica Variations," Beethoven's 15 Variations and Fugue on an Original Theme, Op. 35 (1802) might more aptly be called the "Prometheus Variations." The theme upon which the variations are based was first heard by the public in the finale of Beethoven's ballet The Creatures of Prometheus, Op. 43 (1800-01), and it also appears as the seventh of his 12 Contredanses, WoO 14 (1800-02); still later, and most prominently of all, it plays a central role in the finale of the Symphony No. 3 ("Eroica"), Op. 55 (1803). As the composer indicated in a letter to the publisher Breitkopf & Hartel, the variations are "written in quite a new style and...in an entirely different way."
Beethoven was almost certainly alluding to the overall layout of the set. First, the theme's bass line appears alone, and then in a series of introductory variations of two, three, and four voices. By beginning with this basso del tema Beethoven emphasizes its comic aspects, especially the three fortissimo octaves in its second half. When the actual theme finally appears, together with the bass, three variations have already unfolded; it is only at this point, however, that Beethoven commences "counting" the variations. Though the final fugue opens with a subject derived from the basso del tema, by its close it reasserts the prominence of the main theme. Beethoven's compositional technique here is markedly more sophisticated than in his earlier essays in the genre; still, the harmonic scheme never ventures far afield from the prevailing E flat major tonality. The relative minor (C minor) emerges in No. 6, the parallel minor (E flat minor) in No. 14, and most refreshingly, the major mediant (G major) at the close of No. 15. The most striking feature of the Variations is the infusion of fugues, canons, ground basses and other characteristically Baroque elements into a work firmly grounded in the high Classical style. The particular importance Beethoven grants the bass line anticipates the precedence of harmonic progressions over melodic material in one of the most monumental accomplishments in the theme-and-variations genre, the 33 Variations on a Waltz by Diabelli, Op. 120 (1819-23).
(All Music Guide)