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Diabelli Variations, Op. 120 Naxos 8.557384-85


Beethoven, Ludwig van


Battersby, Edmund

Around 1819, the music-publisher and composer Anton Diabelli invited several
composers to contribute one variation to a collection based on his own waltz
theme. Beethoven initially refused. Instead, he began sketching his own
collection of variations based on Diabelli's waltz. Not completed until 1823,
the Thirty-Three Variations on a Waltz by Diabelli, Op. 120, would become
Beethoven's last large-scale composition for solo piano.

This late work poses numerous interpretive possibilities. Several scholars
have attempted to describe the Diabelli Variations in terms of a transcendental
journey, a testament to Beethoven's spi­rit­uality, and how this manifests
itself in his late compositional style. The notion of retrospection (and along
with that, introspection) is one key to unlocking the magic behind this piece.
The Variations, indeed, assume a monumental narrative structure. Much as Dante
provided a guide through his Divine Comedy, so does Beethoven, but
Beethoven's gu­ide(­s) turns out not to be the theme, but rather, the musical
genres and styles both from the past and the contemporaneous. One can unravel
this work by tracing a carefully planned narrative of retrospection, through the
use of parody and humour, imitation, and transformation of musical styles.
Expressively, this retrospective approach contributes to the deeper meaning
behind the work. Further, the work can be viewed in three large sections, each
one more

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