Lost Third Variation on 'St. Patrick's Day', op. 107 nr. 4, Gardi 20 (1818)

Lost Third Variation on 'St. Patrick's Day', op. 107 nr. 4, Gardi 20 (1818)
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Author: Mark S. Zimmer
Length: 0:15
Lost Third Variation on "St. Patrick's Day", op. 107 nr. 4 (1818)

Beethoven composed arrangements of a great many English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh folksongs for publisher George Thomson. Although he politely expressed the greatest admiration for Beethoven and his talents, in a letter of June 22, 1818 Thomson lamented that his arrangements "are much too difficult....My songs with your ritornellos and accompaniments do not sell!" But Thomson did not give up hope. Instead, he suggested that arranging some of the songs for flute or violin with piano as sets of variations might be more appealing. But Thomson again emphasized that they needed to be easy. The results of this commission are presently collected as opus 105 and opus 107, even though Beethoven again disregarded this admonition to keep the pieces easy to play.

The variations were in Thomson's hands by December of 1818. However, there was a problem with the third variation of what would become op. 107 nr. 4, on the song "St. Patrick's Day," also known under the title "The Pulse of an Irishman." Thomson complained in a letter of January 8, 1819 that "The effect that this variation produces does not satisfy me; it is, so to speak, too meager, and would not be appreciated by the public. I therefore request that you give me another one, in a more singing manner and in a style more brilliant, or flowing; and since the theme is a very favorite air, that you give me the pleasure of adding another variation, since the piece is a bit short."

Beethoven's immediate reaction to receiving this letter is not recorded, but one cannot imagine he was very well pleased. Nevertheless, he complied with Thomson's request and wrote two new variations, which presently are found as variations 3 and 4 of this set. The autograph of the replacement variations are found in the Beethovenhaus (Ms. NE 106) and at the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, with sketches for the Ninth Symphony found on the reverse, offering a look at Beethoven's ability to simultaneously address the sublime and mildly ridiculous.

Regrettably, nothing appears to remain of the replaced variation other than a brief segment of just over two measures of the right hand piano part, which Thomson quoted in his January 8, 1819 letter so Beethoven would know which variation he found displeasing. The accompanying midi file first plays the beginning two measures of the piano part for the theme, followed by the equivalent two measures of the lost variation. The loss is particularly sad because it's clear Beethoven was trying out some rhythmic innovations, placing chords only on counts 3 and 6 of the 6/8 score, while sending the bright F major melody into a grim F minor key. It very well might have sounded somewhat meager to the ears of amateur Scottish ladies, but even this tiny glimpse at a lost piece demonstrates Beethoven's creativity when turning out these potboiler compositions.

Gardi: 20
Opus: 107

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