6 простых вариаций для фортепиано на оригинальную тему G-dur, WoO 77

Время создания: 1800 год.

Gianluca Cascioli (фортепиано)

This piece is also known as Six Easy Variations on an Original Theme. It was composed around the same time as the Piano Sonata No. 11 in B flat major, one of the more important and larger early piano works of Beethoven, despite the fact that many still do not fully appreciate its art. These variations inhabit a different world altogether, their appeal coming from their charm and grace, not from innovation or grand design. One might observe that they occupy a similar kind of position in Beethoven's oeuvre as Weihnachtsbaum (1874-76) does in Liszt's, or Music for Children (1935) does in Prokofiev's. Beethoven's work is relatively easy to perform and its expressive language would not pose a problem for young listeners or for the uninitiated.

The main theme is simple and direct, offering a childlike charm in its innocent-sounding, chipper gait. The first variation is livelier than the theme, but continues the same bright mood. The second presents some of the perkiest music in the piece, sounding almost giddy as it seems to skip and jump along the keyboard. The next variation is also happy, but more muscular and emphatic than the previous music, too, hinting at conflict and tension.

While the composer's first signs of deafness were beginning to surface around this time, they apparently had little effect on his mood, at least up to this point in the work. In the fourth variation we find what could be a brief reflection on that misfortune: the music is dark here, played on low chords, with no harmonizing at the outset. There is more than a suggestion of anger here. The mood turns cheerful in the last two variations, the almost manic gaiety in the fifth benefiting from the contrast of the grim fourth variation. The main theme returns, somewhat altered, near the end, launching the deftly-wrought, rather nonchalant coda.

This is well-crafted light music that ought to please most listeners interested in the less-serious side of Beethoven. This set of variations was first published in Vienna in 1800. A typical performance of the work lasts about seven to eight minutes.

(All Music Guide)

As Hans Schmidt reports, we can encounter the original theme not only in WoO 77, but also in the piano sonata in B-flat, Op. 22, namely in the first transitional passage of the rondo.  

With respect to Beethoven's sketches to this work and with respect to their chronological sequence, Thayer-Forbes reports in the standard biography's chapter to the year 1800:

"In the Peter Collection at Vienna there are sketches for the last movement of the G major Quartet, the last movement of the B-flat Quartet (among them one which was discarded), both deviating from the printed form more or less, and one for the third and last movements of the F major Quartet.  The latter approach pretty closely the ultimate form; thus this quartet was further advanced than the others.  Associated with this sketch are sketches for the Sonata in B-flat, Op. 22, and for the easy Variations in G Major which were begun while work was in progress on the last movement of the Quartet in G" (Thayer-Forbes: 263).

While mention of these sketches in the chapter to the year 1800 allows us to assume that the work was composed in that year, Barry Cooper narrows down the time period in which Op. 22 and WoO 77 were composed, as follows:  

"After his return from Budapest in July 1800, Beethoven spent most of the year composing a Piano Sonata in B flat (Op. 22), two Violin Sonatas (Opp. 23 and 24), and another set of Piano Variations (WoO 77). . . . " (Cooper: 95).

With respect to the completion of the variations,  Thayer-Forbes (p. 265) writes that these "Variations tres faciles" 1800 were sketched in 1800 and probably also completed in that year.  The standard biography includes these variations also in its list of completed compositions of 1800 (p. 267).  

Cooper (p. 95) further reports that they were already published in December, 1800.  

Beethoven's description of these variations as 'very easy' is referred to by Cooper as a 'slight exaggeration'.

With respect to their musical content and character, Hans Schmidt writes that Beethoven was a master of 'germinating' musical developments: he not only mastered the art of transformation, but also knew how to prepare a theme for such a development.  He describes the secret charm of the six light variations, WoO 77as an example of that and describes them as incredibly organically developed, flowing and complete.