We continue the commemoration of Mozart’s Birthday in the Beethoven Year with one of the last piano works Beethoven ever composed: the Diabelli Variations. The publisher Anton Diabelli wrote a simple waltz and circulated it to 13 composers, requesting a single variation from each. Beethoven initially scoffed at the idea, but then produced a mammoth set of 32 variations in which he took the trivial theme and subjected it to the most through-going transformations imaginable.
Variation number 22 is easily recognized as the opening aria in Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni in which the servant Leporello laments his lot in life(from a 1954 performance conducted by Wilelm Furtwangler – you can stop listening after about two minutes, or continue to watch the whole opera).
Here is Sviatoslav Richter playing Diabelli Variation number 22.
Finally, listen to the entire set of Beethoven variations, played here by Alfred Brendel, and you will hear how Beethoven takes Mozart’s theme and weaves it into the harmonic structure of Diabelli’s waltz. Ingenious!