Beethoven wrote many sets of variations based on themes from operas popular on the Viennese stage in the 1790s and early 1800s. His many efforts included Variations for piano in A major, W.O 69, on Paisiello's "Quant e Piu Bello," Variations for Piano in F major, WoO 76, on Sussmayer's "Tandeln und Scherzen," Thirteen Variations for Piano in A major, WoO 66, on Dittersdorf's "Es war einmal ein alter Mann," and many others. This set of variations is based on "Une fievre brulante" from Gretry's opera Richard the Lionhearted. The date of the composition is uncertain, but 1795 appears to be the likeliest year.
The theme by Gretry is slow and stately, just the kind of straightforward and pristine-sounding melody Beethoven loved to expand on. The first variation is only marginally livelier but offers more color, gradually easing the listener into the greater changes to come. The next two are slightly quicker, with the latter both perky and regal. The fourth is slow and serious, bordering on the melancholy.
The next variation effervesces with wit in its trills and its rhythmic figures. No. 6 is dramatic with its proud, emphatic chords and air of defiance. If the seventh is a bit subdued in mood, it may be to prepare for the contrast of the brilliant final variation, which is full of color and life, providing an effective close to this set of variations. While this work on the whole is attractive, it is not among the better efforts by Beethoven in this genre. The influence of Mozart is noticeable in places, though Beethoven is hardly imitative of him.
This set of variations was first published in Vienna in 1798. A typical performance lasts around eight minutes.
(All Music Guide)