VARIATIONS ON A THEME OF PAGANINI (STUDIES FOR PIANO),
Recording: Martin Jones, pianist [NI 1788]
This work stands at the end of the line of large-scale piano
Brahms composed in the late 1850s and early 1860s. It seems
to be a direct response--or opposite--to the Handel Variations, Op. 24. Whereas that work,
difficult as it is, never utilizes virtuoso showmanship for its
own sake, Brahms in his Op. 35 directly engages himself with the
brilliant, fiery virtuoso pianism of Liszt and the Weimar school,
an aesthetic with which he would not normally be associated.
The composer, however, almost undermines this by titling the
variations “Studies” for piano, as if they were meant for
technical practice rather than public display. In actuality,
the title draws attention to the fact that the variations deal
with specific challenges of piano technique, in a similar manner
to Chopin’s Etudes, which are very much concert pieces. Moreover,
the arrangement into two books, each with an extended coda or
finale, clearly indicates that they are meant for performance, as
does, in fact, the assignation of an opus number. They were
composed for Carl Tausig, one of Liszt’s most notable pupils, for
whom Brahms had great admiration. The theme chosen is
Paganini’s most famous violin caprice, on which Liszt and Schumann
had already written variations (both of which were surpassed by
Brahms in difficulty and content) and would reach its apotheosis
years later in the piano/orchestra rhapsody by Rachmaninoff.
The two sets can be performed as individual units or, as is
common, as two separate items on the same concert. The old
practice of selecting individual variations from either book and
combining them in a “selection,” while common with Clara Schumann
and other contemporary pianists, does violence to the carefully
planned structure of each book. Each book presents the
theme, fourteen variations, and a large three-part coda connected
to the fourteenth variation. The variations all preserve the
structure of the theme. A first part with a four-bar phrase
that is repeated either literally or in varied form, then a longer
eight-bar second part, also repeated or varied. In one
instance (Book I, No. 10), Part 2 is lengthened to sixteen
bars. While some variations highlight particular technical
problems, others, such as the “waltz” variation in the second book
(No. 4) are adaptations of the theme to popular
styles. Rhythmic devices such as two-against-three are
common (the most complex example being No. 7 in Book II), as are
studies in octaves or double notes (often thirds or sixths).
The meters vary, but 2/4 (as in the theme) and 6/8 are the most
common. Two variations in Book I use the home major key, as
does one in Book II. No. 12 in Book II is the only variation
that ventures away from the central key of A. The finales
build on the final variations and embed additional unmarked
complete variations along their course.
In the guides below, Part I and its repetition are always treated
as a single unit, whether or not the repeat is literal or
varied. Part II and its repetition are treated as two units,
since it is twice as long. Tempo markings are only given if
they are indicated in the score, and the key is only given if it
is not A minor (four instances). Meters are always indicated
for each variation. Generally, the repetition of each part
FROM IMSLP (First Edition from Brahms-Institut Lübeck)
ONLINE SCORE FROM IMSLP (From
Breitkopf & Härtel Sämtliche
0:00 [m. 1]--THEMA.
Non troppo presto. A MINOR, 2/4 time. Part 1.
The familiar theme is played in octaves, with decorations.
Part 1 consists of a short, open four-bar phrase that is
repeated. The first three bars of the phrase begin with a
detached dotted (rhythm) and continue with a group of four
notes. The fourth bar is a longer descending octave.
0:12 [m. 9]--Part 2.
A contrasting, closed eight-bar phrase that uses the same rhythmic
pattern, closing with an ascending octave. For this part,
the octaves are decorated with rolled chords (emulating the
violin) in the left hand at the beginning of each bar, and more
rolled chords in both hands for the last two bars.
0:21 [m. 17]--Repetition
of Part 2. The entire Theme is 24 bars long.
0:30 [m. 25]--VARIATION
1. 2/4 time. Part 1. Churning, steady
oscillating motion with strong accents. The right hand plays
doubled notes, mostly in sixths until the descent at the end of
the phrase. The left hand has a single line in contrary
motion with the right hand over low bass notes. The
repetition of the phrase is an octave higher and adds doubled
thirds to the left hand.
0:39 [m. 33]--Part
2. The pattern continues with doubled sixths in the right
hand and doubled thirds with bass notes in the left. The
doublings become more varied in the second half, including fourths
in the left hand and thirds, fourths, and fifths in the right.
0:48 [m. 41]--Part 2
repeated, with the repeat written out.
0:58 [m. 49]--VARIATION
2. 2/4 time. Part 1. The churning sixths with
heavy accents are still used, but they are transferred to the low
bass in the left hand. The right hand plays four heavily
accented three-note short-short-long figures that move up an
octave each time. The repetition of the phrase is highly
varied. The volume decreases to a piano level, the left hand sixths are shifted up
an octave, and the right hand plays high music-box like octaves
embellished with a third below the high note. These move
1:07 [m. 57]--Part
2. The pattern of the first half of Part 1 is
re-established. The churning sixths move back
down to the low register of the left hand, and the right hand
plays the short-short-long figures in octaves, this time moving
steadily down by fifths. The second half adds more notes to
the right-hand figures as the cadence is approached, but they are
still in octaves and the basic rhythm is preserved. The left
hand abandons the sixths in favor of downward cascading notes at
the very end.
1:17 [m. 65]--Part 2,
Varied repeat. A quieter level is again established.
As in the second half of Part 1, the left hand is transferred up
an octave and the right hand plays very high octaves embellished
by thirds. These move steadily with some interruption,
particularly some syncopation at the very end.
1:29 [m. 73]--VARIATION
3. 6/8 time. Part 1. A single line divided
between the hands scurries along in the new 6/8 meter with
upbeats. The strong beats are marked with sharp
accents. Repeated notes are rapidly divided between the
hands. All remains in the upper register. The
repetition of the phrase is varied by adding a second voice
playing high rising octaves on strong beats and lower falling
octaves on weak beats. The original line is the same, but it
is quieter, without the sharp accents.
1:38 [m. 81]--Part
2. The pattern is based on the first half of Part 1, with
sharp accents on strong beats and a single line in the upper
1:47 [m. 89]--Part 2,
Varied repeat. Based on the second half of Part 1, with a
second voice playing high rising octaves on strong beats and low
falling octaves on weak beats. Again, it is at a quieter
1:58 [m. 97]--VARIATION
4. 12/8 time. Part 1. The new 12/8 meter
essentially doubles the length of each bar. The left hand
plays very wide arching arpeggios while the right hand plays
sharply accented trills linked by short notes and harmonized
underneath. In the repetition of the phrase, the pattern is
reversed, with the right hand playing the wide arpeggios and the
left hand the accented trills, harmonized beneath with rolled
2:16 [m. 105]--Part
2. The pattern of the first half of Part 1 is used, the left
hand playing the wide arpeggios and the right hand the accented
2:34 [m. 113]--Part 2,
Varied repeat. The pattern is again reversed, the right hand
now playing extremely wide arpeggios, the left hand playing
accented trills harmonized underneath.
2:53 [m. 121]--VARIATION
5. 2/4--6/8 time. Part 1. The right hand plays
groups of two doubled notes (usually thirds or sixths) beginning
on upbeats. The left hand plays in a contrasting 6/8 meter,
playing three notes against each right hand two. These left
hand notes, are, however, grouped in twos (usually octave leaps)
so that the clash between the hands is maximized. Every two
bars, the left hand begins in the very high register and descends
quite low, crossing over the right hand. Both hands are
moved up an octave for the repeat of the phrase. The
variation is quiet and expressive, with swelling and receding
every two bars.
3:07 [m. 129]--Part
2. The pattern is slightly altered, with the right hand
(still in 2/4) including groups of two and three doubled notes
determined by phrase marking. The left hand still plays
large leaps, sometimes greater than an octave, in groups of
two. It is still in 6/8, meaning that the two-against-three
dynamic persists between the hands. The right hand moves
steadily downward, while the left hand leaps continually down from
a very high register to a low one, crossing regularly over the
3:19 [m. 129]--Part 2
repeated, marked with repeat signs.
3:33 [m. 137]--VARIATION
6. 6/8 time. Part 1. The left hand begins each
bar with a low octave, then leaps up for a short phrase derived
from the original theme. The right hand, beginning off the
beat, plays groups of three syncopated chords (octaves embellished
by thirds), also derived from the original theme. Both hands
play quietly, and the left hand octaves should be played very
lightly. The repetition is literal, with repeat signs.
3:42 [m. 141]--Part
2. The pattern continues in both hands until the penultimate
bar, where both hands cut their patterns in half and play them
twice. The last bar restores the regular patterns.
3:51 [m. 141]--Part 2
repeated, marked with repeat signs.
4:01 [m. 149]--VARIATION
7. 6/8 time. Part 1. This variation is fiery and
dramatic. Each two-bar unit consists of one bar where the
hands play widely spaced octaves in opposite directions, then
another bar where the hands play closer harmonies in the middle of
the keyboard, also in opposite directions. For the first
statement, the octaves move “out” chromatically and the closer
harmonies move “in,” and in the second statement (the
“repetition”) this is reversed with the octaves moving “in” and
the closer harmonies “out.”
4:09 [m. 157]--Part
2. The pattern continues for the first four bars as in the
first phrase of Part 1, with the octaves moving “out” and the
closer harmonies moving “in.” In the second half, the
patterns are cut in half, but retain the same contour (octaves
followed by close harmonies) until the final emphatic
cadence. There is a bridge to the repeat based on this
4:18 [m. 157]--Part 2
repeated, marked with repeat signs, but with a second ending
omitting the bridge.
4:27 [m. 165]--VARIATION
8. 6/8 time. Part 1. This variation retains the
fire of the previous one. The right hand plays high octaves,
then leaps down to thirds in the middle range. This happens
every half-bar. The left hand leaps from low downbeat
octaves to its own middle-range thirds each bar. The left
hand thirds arch up and down, and the upward-moving ones double
the right hand thirds an octave below. The repetition is
literal, but is written out.
4:36 [m. 173]--Part
2. The pattern continues, but the left hand thirds begin to
expand outward to sixths and octaves after their initial ascent in
each bar (other than the first and third bars). The last two
bars break the pattern in the left hand for the cadence, but the
right hand retains its character.
4:44 [m. 173]--Part 2
repeated, marked with repeat signs.
4:55 [m. 181]--VARIATION
9. 2/4 time. Part 1. The left hand establishes a
series of repeated low bass octaves in groups of six (in triplet
rhythm). Against this, the right hand plays a rising series
of chromatic chords in straight rhythm, creating an ominous
sound. The two-against-three (or four-against six) conflict
between the bass octaves and the rising chords adds more
tension. After two bars, the pattern is repeated an octave
higher in both hands with the harmony changed at the end to match
the theme. The repetition of all four bars is literal, with
repeat signs. The motion is twice as slow as in previous
5:16 [m. 185]--Part
2. The repeated octaves in groups of six are transferred to
the right hand in a high register. They move steadily down
chromatically. The left hand plays a series of chromatic
chords and octaves in straight rhythm. In the first four
bars, these move steadily down the keyboard twice. The
groupings become shorter in the second half as the cadence is
approached. The entire variation is quiet and
mysterious, and becomes even quieter at the end.
The right hand octaves bridge to the repeat.
5:36 [m. 185]--Part 2
repeated, marked with repeat signs. The right hand octaves
come to a firm cadence in place of the previous bridge in a second
5:58 [m. 193]--VARIATION
10. 2/4 time. Part 1. This highly syncopated
variation, twice as fast as the last, continues the mysterious
character of the previous one. It is marked sotto voce. The left
hand plays a series of rising arpeggios in detached notes.
These rise high enough to cross over the right hand at the end of
each two-bar unit. The right hand itself plays middle-range
thirds and close chords on the half-beats, creating a continuous
syncopation with the left hand arpeggios. The repeat is
literal, but is written out.
6:13 [m. 201]--Part
2. The second half is stretched out to sixteen bars--twice
its normal length. The harmonies of the Theme are prolonged
accordingly. In the first eight bars, the pattern of Part 1
alternates with a more ominous passage. In this “ominous”
passage, the left hand plays low, winding octaves to which the
right hand responds in syncopation, often in exact imitation in
the middle range. In the second half, the two elements are
combined. The right hand combines the Part 1 patterns with
the “ominous” imitations, while the left hand chooses the
“ominous” winding octaves instead of the detached hand-crossing
6:41 [m. 201]--Part 2
repeated, marked with repeat signs. The lengthening of Part
2 does not replace a repeat here, since the lengthening is not a
“variation within a variation,” but an actual stretching of the
7:13 [m. 217]--VARIATION
11. Andante. A MAJOR, 2/4 time. Part 1.
This is the first of two major-key variations. As is typical
in variation forms, the major key chosen is the “home” major key
rather than the “relative” key. This variation is of the
“music box” type, with both hands in a high treble register
playing expressive, steady, “tinkling” harmonies. In this
variation, there are four “repetitions,” as each two-bar unit uses
the same exact material (all written out). The third and
fourth of these (the actual full “repetition”) should be played
even quieter, and Brahms indicates use of the soft pedal. It
is slower than Variation 10.
7:35 [m. 225]--Part
2. The soft pedal is released. The music box style
continues for the second part, which moves steadily down for each
two-bar unit. The third of these includes a highly
decorative “turning” figure in the right hand, while the last
includes a trill at the cadence. A triplet arpeggio bridges
to the repeat.
7:58 [m. 225]--Part 2
repeated, marked with repeat signs. Full close, without the
bridge. There is a pause.
8:22 [m. 233]--VARIATION
12. A MAJOR, 2/4 time. Part 1. The “music box”
style of the previous variation is held over into another
major-key variation. This one again exploits
two-against-three motion. The right hand plays leaping,
meandering arpeggios in the high register in triplet rhythm.
The left hand (beginning with an upbeat), plays a similar line in
somewhat opposite motion, but in “straight” rhythm. It is in
the high middle register. Brahms marks that it should be
played molto dolce (very
sweetly). The repetition (literal and marked with repeats)
is indicated to be played even more quietly.
8:43 [m. 237]--Part
2. The pattern continues for Part 2, with somewhat more
motion in both hands in the second half (the last four
bars). The two-against-three is preserved throughout.
The left hand moves into a lower middle register at some
points. The harmonies are similar to those of Variation 11.
9:04 [m. 237]--Part 2
repeated, marked with repeat signs. There is a pause.
9:28 [m. 245]--VARIATION
13. 2/4 time. Part 1. The minor key returns for
this variation, which is also twice as fast as the two preceding,
returning to the tempo of the original Theme. Brahms marks
it vivace e scherzando.
It is in the Hungarian “gypsy“ style. The right hand plays
in very high, steady octaves with some embellishing grace notes in
each bar. The left hand patterns are fairly simple, with low
rolled tenths (or ninths) leaping up to syncopated chords.
The octave glissando
(slide) at the end of the phrase is distinctive and difficult to
execute. The repeat is literal, with repeat signs.
9:39 [m. 249]--Part
2. Continuation of the established pattern in the
“Hungarian” style. Another octave glissando is heard at the
end of the first phrase. The second phrase has two, the
latter of which is longer. The penultimate bar, as typical
throughout the variation, breaks the pattern in the left
hand. An ascending arpeggio at the end reaches quite high.
9:51 [m. 249]--Part 2
repeated, marked with repeat signs. There is an alternate
ending with the final ascending arpeggios sped up to a triplet
rhythm and reaching yet another octave higher, near the top of the
keyboard. There is a pause.
10:05 [m. 257]--VARIATION
14. Allegro. 2/4 time. Part 1. Brahms here
uses shorter notes to achieve a faster effect. He marks the
variation con fuoco
(with fire). It begins with an upbeat. Two elements
continually alternate between the hands. One is a running
scale passage broken continually by skips. The other is a
short interjection with two repeated notes and a punctuating
octave. These two elements are passed between the hands so
that one is always playing each. The repetition of the
phrase is varied. The short interjection with repeated notes
is omitted, and both hands pass the running, skipping
scales. Rapid broken octaves are introduced in the left
10:20 [m. 265]--Part
2. The variation is intensified. Trills are introduced
in the left hand, as are multiple leaping chains of the short
interjection. In the second half, the short interjection is
preserved in the right hand, but not the left. Cascading
arpeggios end the variation.
10:33 [m. 265]--Part 2
repeated, marked with repeat signs.
10:47 [m. 273]--EXTENDED
CODA/FINALE. The finale begins with an extension of
Variation 14. The cascading arpeggios from the end of that
variation are elaborated for eight bars, becoming ever more
intense. The major key is suggested. There is a
gradual slowing at the end of this extension, coming to a highly
11:02 [m. 281]--In what
sounds like another variation, the hands continue to play the
cascading arpeggios, but move to playing together in unison two
octaves apart. This breaks soon, with the right hand
continuing the pattern and the left hand moving to smoother,
arch-like arpeggios. The right hand makes some very brief
breaks in the last two bars of this passage. The intensity
continues to build.
11:14 [m. 288]--Sharp
chords are broken by tremolo, trill-like octaves split between the
hands a half-step apart. These move down two octaves.
The trill is then isolated and extended, moving back up the two
octaves and rapidly diminishing in volume.
11:22 [m. 292]--Brahms
here marks a new tempo, Presto,
ma non troppo. He also indicates the 2/4 meter
again. This is because what follows is another unmarked
variation. It is light, fast, and soft. A melody
derived from the theme is in the top voice, with harmonization in
the bottom voice. There are faster, trill-like notes in a
middle voice. The repetition adds an upper broken octave to
the melody in the top voice.
11:29 [m. 300]--For the
second part of this unmarked variation, the pattern from the first
phrase is restored (without the broken octaves). There is a
sharp, isolated accent in the penultimate bar.
11:35 [m. 308]--The second
part is varied in the manner of the last part of 11:22 [m. 292],
with broken octaves in the top voice. These are further
enhanced by harmonies below the top notes. The last two bars
break into leaping figures in both hands. This ending is
extended by two bars.
11:44 [m. 318]--The last
four bars of the previous passage (the extended ending of the
“variation”) are repeated and varied with added chromatic
notes. There are two more repetitions of this passage, the
last an octave lower.
11:55 [m. 330]--The last
bar of the preceding passage is isolated, intensified, and
repeated twice, each an octave higher. Then there is an
enormous, powerful descent in chords broken between the
hands, the right hand playing off the beats in syncopation.
When the “bottom” is reached after four bars, there is a murmuring
oscillation for one more bar in a brief diminishing of
volume. A final flourish of a rising arpeggio, with solid
left hand chords and octaves, brings things to a close.
12:11--END OF BOOK I [339 mm.]
0:00 [m. 1]--THEMA.
Non troppo presto. A MINOR, 2/4 time. Part 1.
Theme presented, as in Book I.
0:11 [m. 9]--Part 2 of the
Theme, as in Book I.
0:20 [m. 17]--Part 2
repeated, as in Book I.
0:29 [m. 25]--VARIATION
1. 2/4 time. Part 1. The right hand plays
powerful octaves with sharp accents while the left hand plays
rapidly ascending and descending double thirds in triplet
rhythm. When the thirds approach the middle range, they are
occasionally split with the right hand, which leaves out the lower
octave on those occasions. At the end of the phrase, the
octaves themselves make octave leaps and come to a pause.
The repetition essentially reverses the hands, with the thirds in
the right hand, but the left hand plays descending broken instead
of block octaves. The thirds are not split between the hands
on this statement, and they expand to sixths at the end. The
octave leaps at the end are preserved in the left hand.
0:46 [m. 33]--Part
2. In this part, the thirds and octaves alternate between
the hands every two bars. The octaves are all broken, not
block. At first, the octaves are in the right hand, the
thirds in the left. At the end, the right hand thirds ascend
dramatically to a pause on an A major
1:00 [m. 41]--Part 2,
Varied repeat. Brahms marks it con forza. The octaves and thirds are now
combined between the hands at the same time. Both play the
octaves in different registers, and the third harmonies are now
split between the hands at the distance of just over one, two, or
even three octaves (three only on the beginning upbeat). The
closing on a major chord is preserved from the first statement of
1:17 [m. 49]--VARIATION
2. Poco animato. 2/4 time. Part 1. This
variation is powerful, but expressive. Like Variation
1, it begins on an upbeat. It is based on two-against-three
rhythm. The right hand plays a winding line in
octaves. It uses straight rhythm. The left hand plays
widely spaced winding and arching arpeggios in triplet
rhythm. The repetition moves both hands an octave higher.
1:26 [m. 57]--Part
2. The pattern continues, but the left hand triplet
arpeggios are all descending in the first half. The winding,
arching lines return in the second half of the phrase (the last
four bars). There is a bridge to the repeat with a new
1:36 [m. 57]--Part 2
repeated, marked with repeat signs. The bridge is omitted,
and the variation comes to a full close on a pause.
1:47 [m. 65]--VARIATION
3. 2/4 time. Part 1. Like the previous two
variations, this one begins on an upbeat. The right hand has
a light, dynamic line of ascending thirds punctuated by
octaves. The left hand plays a rather simple, detached
line. The last note of the second bar is held over
throughout the rest of the phrase as the hand plays detached notes
below. The right hand thirds widen to fifths and sixths at
the end of the phrase. In the repetition, the right hand is
the same, but the left hand is shifted down an octave, holding
over the last note from the first phrase. The low last note
of the second bar is now held over, so the detached notes in the
rest of the phrase are now an played above it, an octave higher
1:58 [m. 73]--Part
2. The pattern continues. The left hand holds higher
notes over and plays detached notes below them. As in Part
1, the right hand thirds widen to fifths and sixths at the
end. They leap widely between the high and middle registers
of the keyboard.
2:10 [m. 73]--Part 2
repeated, marked with repeat signs, and closing on a pause.
2:25 [m. 81]--VARIATION
4. Poco Allegretto. A MAJOR, 3/8 time. Part
1. Brahms uses the major key much earlier in this book than
in Book I. In a striking transformation, the theme becomes a
gentle, lilting, graceful waltz. The right hand plays in
octaves, with much dotted rhythm. The left hand leaps in
each bar from a low downbeat tenth to descending off-beat chords
in the middle register. The repetition merely adds more
embellishment to the right hand octaves.
2:40 [m. 89]--Part
2. The pattern continues, with highly effective chromatic
notes and half-steps, but without the embellishments of the right
hand octaves. In the last four bars, the left hand only
leaps up to one middle register chord on the second beat, then
plays two low octaves (not tenths) on the upbeats and
downbeats. The ending is very gentle.
2:55 [m. 89]--Part 2
repeated, marked with repeat signs. This whole variation
evokes the Op. 39 waltzes.
3:12 [m. 97]--VARIATION
5. 3/8 time. Part 1. The triple meter of the
previous variation is retained, but not the major key. Like
the waltz, it is light and gentle. A lilting dotted rhythm
in octaves is set against descending triplets (in both scale and
arpeggios lines). These triplets begin in the right hand as
the left hand plays a bass note. They are then transferred
to the left hand after the first beat. The last bar has
leaping triplets in both hands. The repeat is literal,
marked with repeat signs.
3:21 [m. 101]--Part
2. The pattern continues. Both hands break into the
leaping triplets in the last two bars.
3:29 [m. 101]--Part 2
repeated, marked with repeat signs. The last bar is
altered. Instead of bridging to the repeat, the leaping
triplets descend rapidly to a strong cadence. There is a
3:39 [m. 109]--VARIATION
6. Poco più vivace. 3/8 time. Part 1. The
entire variation is a single line. In this part, there are
two large, arching arpeggios over two bars each. They are
identical, except for the bridging notes at the end of the
first. The repeat is literal, so there are four statements
of this large arpeggio. The sharp, crushing half-step
embellishments on each beat, called acciacaturas, are used consistently
throughout. The embellishments are played with the left
hand, the arpeggios themselves with the right.
3:46 [m. 113]--Part
2. The first half has two more large arpeggios, two bars
each. The second half has four ascending arpeggios.
The crushing half-step acciacaturas
remain in force until the end. They are always played by the
left hand as the right hand plays the main arpeggios, which
include octaves in the second half.
3:53 [m. 113]--Part 2
repeated, marked with repeat signs. There is a pause.
4:02 [m. 121]--VARIATION
7. 2/4--3/8 time. Part 1. The variation is
light, but distinctly accented. In one of the most
sophisticated rhythmic adventures in the variations, Brahms
establishes a four-against-three (or nine) dynamic between the
right hand, which plays in straight rhythm in 2/4, and the left,
which remains in 3/8. The right hand plays high detached
octaves. The left hand line winds up and down, with
chromatic notes. To add to the complexity, the main left
hand notes (on the beats of the 3/8 bars) are in the middle of
their own leaping triplet arpeggios, the first note of which is an
upbeat. These shorter triplet figures thus cross bar lines
before the first beats of the bars. In the repetition, the
right hand breaks its octaves into leaping descents, effectively
creating a bewildering eight-against-nine rhythmic contrast.
4:10 [m. 129]--Part
2. The hands are reversed. The 3/8 meter moves to the
right hand, the octaves in straight 2/4 to the left. The
right hand downbeats are now at the beginning, rather than in the
middle of the triplet arpeggios (all of which descend), so one
layer of rhythmic complexity is removed. The 3/8 line is
more leaping and less winding.
4:17 [m. 137]--Part 2,
Varied repeat. The dynamic of Part 1 is restored. The
last note of the final right hand arpeggio at the end of the
previous passage becomes an upbeat. The straight 2/4 octaves
move back to the right hand, the 3/8 meter to the left. The
upbeat also re-establishes the shorter triplets crossing bar lines
and the main melody line on the beats being in the middle of these
shorter triplets. It is thus not an exact hand reversal of
4:10 [m. 129]. This complex rhythmic tapestry comes together
at the cadence and pause.
4:26 [m. 145]--VARIATION
8. Allegro. 6/8 time. Part 1. The hands
play arpeggios in contrary motion (opposing directions) throughout
this variation. It begins on an upbeat. On the
upbeats, the arpeggios are very quick, the right hand ascending,
the left hand descending. The slower arpeggios on the first
two beats of each bar move in the opposite directions. The
style is meant to evoke the violin and Paganini’s violin
style. Brahms marks the detached slower arpeggios quasi pizzicato. The
repeat is literal and marked with signs. Brahms also
indicated an alternate version that is slightly easier.
4:37 [m. 149]--Part
2. The contrary motion continues, as do the faster arpeggios
on upbeats. In the first half of Part 2, the second and
fourth groups of arpeggios reverse directions, the right hand
moving down and the left hand moving up on the faster upbeats and
the opposite on the slower arpeggios. All except for these
groups use the pattern established in Part 1. The
penultimate bar does include one “faster” arpeggio in the middle,
the only one not on the last upbeat of the bar.
4:48 [m. 149]--Part 2
repeated, marked with repeat signs.
5:01 [m. 157]--VARIATION
9. 2/4 time. Part 1. Brahms indicates that this
variation should be about twice as slow as the Theme. It is
forceful throughout. The hands play in unison through the
entire variation, always two octaves apart. This allows the
hands to play block octaves themselves in the second half of most
bars, creating a unison over a four-octave range. The
repetition of Part 1 is literal, and marked with signs. The
derivation from the Theme is very obvious in the contours of the
5:13 [m. 161]--Part
2. The forceful unison continues. The second half of
Part 2 has several treacherous leaping ascents to high octaves,
and the music becomes even more powerful at the end.
5:26 [m. 161]--Part 2
repeated, marked with repeat signs.
5:42 [m. 169]--VARIATION
10. Feroce, energico. 6/8 time. Part 1.
This variation continues the unison spaced two octaves apart from
the previous one. Now, there are huge, sweeping ascents in
the first half of each bar, meant to be played “fiercely.”
The main thematic material is in a held note under the upward
sweeps and further powerful octaves on the upbeats after
them. The last bar in Part 1 ends with another upward
sweep. The repeat is literal, marked with repeat signs.
5:56 [m. 173]--Part
2. The huge sweeps and upbeat octaves continue in
unison. There are two sweeps in the penultimate bar.
The upbeat octaves lead into the repeat as a bridge.
6:10 [m. 173]--Part 2
repeated, marked with repeat signs. The closing is full, as
the “bridge” is omitted.
6:26 [m. 181]--VARIATION
11. Vivace. 2/4 time. Part 1. This
variation, marked to be played detached and in the style of a
scherzo, is among the most difficult to execute. The hands
move in strict contrary motion throughout. The
difficulty lies in the layout of the arpeggios and scales.
They are played in a very steady, unbroken motion, but in these
ascents and descents, every other note is an octave, alternating
with a note not doubled by an octave. This is true in both
hands. The execution at the fast, skittish speed of these
alternations is extremely challenging. The repeat of Part 1
is literal, marked with repeat signs.
6:36 [m. 185]--Part
2. The pattern of ascents and descents, with octaves on
every other note in both hands, as well as the contrary motion
between the hands, continues to the end of the variation.
6:47 [m. 185]--Part 2
repeated, marked with repeat signs.
7:00 [m. 193]--VARIATION
12. Un poco Andante. F MAJOR, 6/8 time. Part
1. This is the only variation in either set to venture away
from the keys of A minor or major, and represents perhaps the
furthest remove from the original Theme. It is written in
the style of a nocturne. The left hand plays flowing
arpeggios, arching or ascending, while the right hand plays a
rapturous melody (twice as slow as the left hand arpeggios) in
octaves. There is an inner voice heard against the
right hand octaves in longer notes. It uses “hemiola”
(placing an implied 3/4 bar against the prevailing 6/8) in the
second and fourth bars. The left hand arpeggios reflect this
regrouping as well. The repeat is literal, marked with
7:21 [m. 197]--Part
2. The rapturous melody in octaves continues in the right
hand, as does the inner voice. The arpeggios continue in the
left. The “hemiola” in the inner voice and the left hand
arpeggios is heard in the second and fourth bars again. The
second half of Part 2 does away with the hemiola, but introduces
syncopation in the main octave melody in the fifth and sixth
bars. The left hand arpeggios create a bridge to the repeat
at the cadence.
7:41 [m. 197]--Part 2
repeated, marked with repeat signs. The cadence halts the
left hand arpeggios.
8:07 [m. 205]--VARIATION
13. Un poco più Andante. 2/4 time. Part 1.
The key of A minor is restored. The variation begins with an
upbeat. The top voices of the right and left hands, spaced a
little over an octave apart, begin a very long, partly chromatic
descent over the whole of Part 1, mostly by scales. Each
hand has a lower voice, the one in the left hand providing a bass
foundation, and the one in the right hand, which moves twice as
fast as the main descending voices, providing the forward
momentum. This inner right hand voice contains repeated
notes in the middle of most four-note groupings, except for the
upbeat to the third bar. The motion is slow and
restrained. The repeat is literal, marked with repeat signs.
8:21 [m. 209]--Part
2. The pattern continues. There are two two-bar
descents in the first four bars. The second half of part 2
consists of a single large descent, with small breaks after the
first two bars (the fifth and sixth of Part 2). The more
dynamic inner voice continues to use repeated notes in the middle
of each beat during a descent.
8:35 [m. 217]--Part 2,
Varied repeat. The varied repeat is quite unexpected
here. The middle voice is omitted, and the descents are
played by the right hand in octaves. The left hand replaces
its descending harmonies with arpeggios, mostly ascending, in the
speed of the now-absent middle voice. The entire variation
is quite melancholy in character.
8:53 [m. 225]--VARIATION
14. Presto, ma non troppo. 2/8 time. Part
1. The scherzo-like character reverts back to Variation 11,
but the unusual 2/8 meter marking essentially speeds up the
variation even more than the new “Presto” tempo indication by
effectively cutting each bar in half. The right hand has a
continuous, partly chromatic descent against a steady, detached
left hand. The “repeat” continues the descent, so of
necessity is exactly an octave lower in the right hand. The
left hand is unchanged.
8:57 [m. 233]--Part
2. Two sequential right hand descents, bridged by irregular
groups of five notes in the second and fourth bars. The next
three bars, after the second group of five, continue the sequence
of descents with three more that are half as long. After the
last of these, the right hand arches up to bridge to the
repeat. The left hand, in contrast to Part 1, is smooth and
connected in the first half of Part 2.
9:02 [m. 233]--Part 2
repeated, marked with repeat signs. The arching bridge is
replaced by a continued descent that leads directly into the
9:06 [m. 241]--EXTENDED
CODA/FINALE. The coda begins with two unmarked variations
that are continuations of the fast 2/8 meter of Variation
14. Part 1 of the first of these is very light and
detached. Two-note harmonies in groups of two are passed
between the hands, the left hand on the first beat and the right
hand on the second. These gradually work up the
keyboard. The repetition is an octave higher, continuing to
work up the keyboard.
9:09 [m. 249]--Part 2
continues in the same vein, but remains in the same range rather
than moving up. The first statement is in the high octave of
the last part of Part 1. The ending brings the hands
together, with a descent in the right hand.
9:13 [m. 257]--The
repetition of Part 2 reverses that of Part 1, and is an octave
lower. The ending is different from the first statement, as
the final right hand descent now leads to the next section.
9:17 [m. 265]--Part 1 of
the second unmarked variation introduces smooth arching leaps and
descents, played in unison an octave apart. It grows in
volume and rises steadily in pitch. As in the first unmarked
variation, the repetition of the pattern is an octave higher,
continuing the ascent.
9:21 [m. 273]--Part 2
continues with the arching leaps and descents, in the higher
register from the end of Part 1. It ends with a sharp upward
9:25 [m. 281]--The
repetition of Part 2 reaches a very loud level. Instead of
following the first unmarked variation, this repeat moves up an
octave still higher. The ending is altered to omit the
upward turn and lead into the next section. It slows down,
but builds to an even greater intensity.
9:29 [m. 289]--Suddenly,
the brief 2/8 bars give way to triplet rhythm and the bars are
lengthened to 2/4. This passage in triplets is transitional,
reaching slightly down, then up to the very high register, where
it is arrested by a chord. After a brief pause,
another rolled chord makes a transition to the next section.
In this transitional passage, the first notes of each triplet
group are upbeats, and they reach across bar lines. The last
note of the 2/8 bars serves as the first triplet upbeat, which is
a very smooth motion into the new meter.
9:38 [m. 298]--Brahms now
breaks into 6/8 bars. They, like the preceding 2/4 ones, are
twice as long as the previous 2/8 units. A rollicking rhythm
now begins where mid-range octaves come between two higher chords
or octaves to create groups of three. The left hand leaps to
these middle octaves from low bass octaves. This sounds like
“Part 1” of another variation, since first two bars are repeated
an octave lower. Eight bars are compressed into four (the
same length as eight of the 2/8 bars).
9:44 [m. 302]--What begins
like “Part 2” of the variation, using the same pattern of
mid-range octaves framed on either end by high chords or octaves,
breaks into a transition to the final passage, suddenly reaching
very high again.
9:50 [m. 308]--After a
very brief pause, the transition continues in a passionate, partly
chromatic ascent. The groups of three persist, with leaping
octaves on the first and third parts of each group in the left
hand, and the upward surging, somewhat chromatic right hand chords
on the second and third parts (off-beats). As the high point
is reached, there is a dramatic pause on an accented, highly
expectant “dominant” chord.
9:56 [m. 313]--The left
hand remains in 6/8, but the right hand goes back to 2/4.
The right hand continues with the surging chords, but they are now
in straight rhythm. They move slightly down, then up even
higher. The left hand plays leaping octaves in 6/8, creating
a three-against-two contrast. At the end, the right hand
chords leap up and down in four repeated, hammering groups of
two. The left hand octaves descend on the off-beats.
The left hand is notated in 2/4 for three final, emphatic chords.
10:32--END OF BOOK II [325 mm.]
run-off time. The final chord decays until about 10:16.)
END OF VARIATIONS
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