Ludwig van Beethoven
33 Variationen in C-Dur über einen Walzer von Anton Diabelli op. 120
Piano Paul Lewis
In 1819 the esteemed Viennese composer and publisher Anton Diabelli commissioned some renowned composers to write him a piece based on a little waltz he himself had composed. He intended to publish these pieces in an anthology entitled Patriotic Association of Artists for charitable purposes. In his time Diabelli was an important publisher and 50 composers responded to his modest request. They included Franz Schubert, Carl Czerny, Mozart’s son Franz Xaver and even Archduke Rudolph. All 50 composers who followed Diabelli’s appeal, wrote a variation relatively quickly. Beethoven, however, who by this time was already deaf and showing signs of illness, considered this task to be menial and beneath his dignity. In spite of this, he must have been attracted by the task, as four years later he presented Diabelli with a monumental work comprising 33 variations and lasting almost one hour; it is considered to be one of the greatest achievements in piano music alongside Bach’s ‘Goldberg’ Variations.
In 1824 Diabelli decided to publish Beethoven’s variations as volume 1, and the remaining 50 by all the other composers as volume 2. Incidentally, the quote about the “menial task” comes from a letter by Beethoven to Diabelli written in 1825, in which Beethoven scornfully reacts to a reminder from Diabelli, asking him where his promised piano sonata for four hands was. Beethoven recommended that Diabelli should commission the Patriotic Association of Artists to write the sonata as a collective project.