Время создания: 1803 год
Thema. Var. I-V - Var. VI. Allegro. Alla Marcia - Var. VII. (Allegro) - Adagio - Allegro
Olli Mustonen, фортепиано
Beethoven wrote many sets of variations for piano. His source material showing an interesting evolution, moving from the themes of popular operas of his day (Ten Variations for Piano, in B flat major, on Salieri's La Stessa, le Stessissima, from Falstaff, WoO 73) to variations on his own themes (Six Variations on an Original Theme, in F, Op. 34) as well as on British patriotic themes as here (and in Seven Variations on God Save the King, in C major, WoO 78), and finally on to the more complex world of the Thirty-Three Variations on a Waltz by Diabelli, in C major, Op. 120.
The Rule, Britannia Variations came on the heels of the Variations on God Save the King (1802 - 1803). While Beethoven may still have been an admirer of Napoleon around this time, he also was attracted to British culture, which in part may explain the existence of these two sets. In 1813, a decade after he had turned against Napoleon, he wrote the orchestral piece Wellington's Victory, using the themes of both these British-inspired variation sets.
The Rule, Britannia theme is well enough known today, but at the time this piece was written it was not nearly as universal; it might have been quite obscure in faraway Vienna. Exactly what prompted Beethoven to turn out these variations and the set based on God Save the King is not known, but certainly he must have believed that the themes were not overly familiar or hackneyed-sounding.
The present work begins with a light and rather polite presentation of the theme, then follows with a lively variation, beginning in the lower register, that sounds quite different in character from the source melody. The next variation is fast, but the theme is easily recognized amid the bustle and abundant colors. The husky fourth variation is the most serious-sounding one (and perhaps the most humorous, as well), while the fifth is the lightest and most exciting. All in all, the music is colorful and lively, and contains much brilliant keyboard writing. Still, the verdict must be that the effort overall is at best a minor one, divulging little innovation in the character of the variations. In fact, this work looks backward in style. This variation set was first published in Vienna in 1804 and carries no dedication. A typical performance of it lasts about four minutes.
(Robert Cummings, Rovi)
Why did a composer living in Austria write two piano variations on the two English anthems "God save the King" and "Rule Britannia" in 1803?
"God save the King" was not unknown on the continent and highly popular. Many composers chose the melody as a subject for variations and changed it, such as the renowned Bach biographer Johann Nicolaus Forkel in 1791. Thus Beethoven followed a tradition when he used both melodies in his battle music "Wellington's victory", op. 91, in 1813 to represent the English side. Such a motif, however, can only work if there is a clear connection between the country represented and the music. Consequently, the music has to be well known. In addition, Beethoven revered Britain and the British and harboured strong feelings for the island. There, he found benevolent publishers, philharmonic societies to successfully perform his compositions, glory, honour and appraisal. "The English" which for Beethoven represented all British citizens, were a generous nation he had strong affections for. Both variations, WoO 78 and WoO 79 ,were composed in the summer of 1803. It might be coincidental that in June of the same year Scottish publisher George Thomson contacted Beethoven for the first time regarding the composition of sonatas with Scottish themes.