Sketches for unused variations for Diabelli Variations op. 120, Gardi 26
Author: Mark S. Zimmer
Beethoven's set of 33 variations on Anton Diabelli's trivial waltz is of course one of the great achievements of the pianistic art, taking the theme and running with it in a multitude of different variants. Publisher Anton Diabelli had sent his waltz to all of the noted composers at the time in early 1819 and requested that they write a variation for him to compile together. For reasons unknown, Beethoven found the project fascinating and wrote far more than was actually called for. He began the project immediately, but in late 1819 he put it aside after having written 22 variations, in order to complete the Missa Solemnis. He apparently did not take the variations up again until several years later, in about 1823. Most of the variations here come from the earlier period of work on the set of variations.
Beethoven had more ideas for variations than he ended up using in the final piece. Though none of these other variations was completed (as was usual for Beethoven when writing sets of variations, he would jot down only the beginning of a variation, sometimes only in one voice, leaving the development until later), many of them are highly interesting in their own right. Presented here are the sketches from a variety of sources, including the Wittgenstein Sketchbook, as well as manuscripts in the Paris Bibliotheque Nationale and the Berlin Staatsbibliothek preussischer Kulturbesitz. Other than the Introduction sketch and the sketches for the penultimate Fugue, these are generally presented in a roughly chronological order, as best as can be determined. We are greatly indebted to Prof. William Kinderman and Prof. Johann Schmidt-Goerg for their various transcriptions of these sketch materials; we have used both heavily in producing these soundfiles. In the MIDI, we have separated what appears to us to be separate variations by about four bars; segments that appear to be related or part of the same variation are separated by shorter pauses.
Though the work in its final form simply begins with Diabelli's theme, at one point in 1819, Beethoven considered opening the composition with a massive introduction reminiscent of that for the Choral Fantasia, beginning with rising arpeggios and concluded with a cadenzalike motion before beginning with the waltz theme that presently opens the set of variations. Beethoven sketched the very beginning and the cadenza on page 17 of the Wittgenstein sketchbook and these sketches are presented here first. Material on page 21 that the editors of the Bonn Beethoven-Archiv transcription of this sketchbook tentatively identified as belonging to the introduction has since been identified by William Kinderman in his essential book, Beethoven's Diabelli Variations, as belonging to the fugue in variation XXXII (in referring to the variations in the final work in this essay, we use Roman numerals; Arabic numerals refer to tentative numberings by Beethoven). A review of the music makes it clear that Prof. Kinderman is most likely correct in his analysis, and we therefore relegate that material to the end of our presentation here.
When Beethoven received the score of Diabelli's waltz, he immediately jotted down ideas for seven variations; he used all but one of these in the final set, so we begin with this unused variation, which is the third in the list of seven jottings. Only the barest beginnings of an idea are present here, however. This variation is found on Paris Ms. 58B and features a beginning in the low register followed by a descending figure high in the treble.
Labelled by Beethoven as "var: 2", the next variation strongly resembles variation XIX in the final work, but it has quite different harmonies and is interesting in its own right. From Wittgenstein p. 7.
The next variation sketch, just below "var: 2," is theorized by Prof. Kinderman to be two separate sketches. However, they appear to us to work quite well together as part of a single variation, with descending quarter note leaps culminating in trills at the bottom of the register.
A 4/4 march (at about 1:21 of the midi) from p. 9 of Wittgenstein follows. This appears to be an early (but much different) version of the march that is the first variation in the final set.
Page 10 of Wittgenstein includes a very brief fragment of a little over two measures based on a trill on the tonic C; unlike many of the other fragments, however, Beethoven assigned this fragment the number 12 in what appears to be a very early shaping of the set of variations. However, it did not make its way into the first known continuity draft, part of the Landsberg 10 manuscript discussed below. Not particularly interesting in and of itself, this fragment is included because of the apparent importance that Beethoven accorded it at this early stage.
Part of what Beethoven found so fascinating about the Diabelli waltz was its underlying reliance on the drop of a fourth, which Beethoven had also recently used in the Arietta variations that conclude the last piano sonata, op. 111. In the next variation (one of many obsessing on this leap), he begins with naked leaps of the fourth and nothing else, then shifts to leaps of a tenth, moving ever farther from the source material while still keeping the germ alive. From Wittgenstein pp. 11-12.
The somber C minor variation in 4/4 (one of several sketched but unused C minor variations) follows from p. 11 of Wittgenstein. This variation is more fully scored than most, but unfortunately stops before it gets very far along.
The next variation, from page 12 of the Wittgenstein sketchbook, has been identified by Prof. Kinderman has having a resemblance to variation XIII, and that appears to be the case, given the dotted eighth-sixteenth figure that the two share, as well as the halting rhythm. But the final version is even more static than the sketch, which incorporates echoes of the initial turn throughout. We see here Beethoven trimming texture away to the very bone in creating the final form of the variation.
A sketch for the cadence between the two sections of the theme follows, with some distorting harmonies added. This also appears on p. 12 of Wittgenstein.
Following is another sketch examining the fourth leap. Prof. Kinderman identifies this as a sketch for variation XIX, but if that is so, the sketch hardly bears any resemblance to the final product except in the cadence between the sections of the variation.
The next sketch, on the same page of Wittgenstein, takes the fourth leap and uses it as a springboard for jumping upward in a ricochet type effect. Unfortunately this witty variant is quite brief.
Four leaves were removed from this point in the Wittgenstein sketchbook, and these are now held in Paris as Ms. 77B. Page 2 of this Ms. contains another variation in C minor (at about 3:30 of the MIDI), treated at first in answering voices, then transposed up a half-step. A segment from the cadence to this variation follows.
Page 4 of Ms. 77B contains the beginning of a variation that continues onto the present page 13 of Wittgenstein, providing clear evidence (in addition to the matching paper watermark) that these materials belong together. This, like many of the sketches, features an emphasis on long notes placed off the beat.
Next is another brief sketch for the cadence, found on page 13 of Wittgenstein. This small sketch makes interesting use of hesitation and rhythmic color. Intriguingly, the latter part of this sketch, at about 4:11 of the MIDI, featuring an off-beat figure in the treble, appears over and over amongst the sketches, and is one of the very first sketches made for the variations. Yet it is nowhere to be found amongst the final set of variations. Perhaps Beethoven found it too obvious?
The same page also contains a brief sketch of the beginning of a variation, deconstructing the repeated harmonies of the first bars of Diabelli's waltz with upward moving quarter notes and a sudden cascade of descending triplets; as the two collide, this send the triplets shooting back upwards again.
Page 14 of Wittgenstein begins with the short fragment that begins with Diabelli's turn, then instead of following with his static chords, begins an upward run. This is followed by another brief bit of work on the cadence. Since this fragment also features the upward moving 8th notes, it's possible that they were meant to be part of the same variation, but this point is rather unclear from the sketchbook.
The bottom of page 14 and top of page 15 of Wittgenstein feature yet another C minor variation in 4/4, this time more fully developed, though it appears in the form of three fragments. However, the structure of the variation is quite apparent from the bits that are visible here. We have incorporated to this sketch a few notes that appear only on the draft contained on Paris Ms. 58, but which clearly are consistent with the material provided in Wittgenstein.
A brief beginning of a fugue in C minor appears in the middle of page 15 of Wittgenstein (5:10 of the MIDI). Since the fugue in E-flat major (the relative major of C minor) had not yet appeared in the sketches, this may have been the first germ of the idea for the massive fugue that is the penultimate variation of the final set. It is, however, even in this tiny fragment, quite different from the fugue in the final version.
From page 16 of the Wittgenstein sketchbook comes a brief segment set against a trill, and from elsewhere on the page, an answering fragment with the trill on top. In between these two fragments, we find a sketch marked as a double fugue in G, in 3/8 time, that may or may not be related to the Diabelli variations. Prof. Kinderman theorizes that it may be related to another entry for a 'Doppelfuge' in the Paris 58 Manuscript. If it is a Diabelli variation, it is quite distant indeed from the theme in all but its rhythmic characteristics.
Page 17 of Wittgenstein contains several lengthy fragments of a driving rhythm for a bass line derived from the waltz. Although sketchy in nature, these fragments form one of the most complete unused variations, essentially providing the whole of the first section.
Beethoven's work in 1819 involved going back and forth between the Wittgenstein sketchbook and a continuity draft that is today made up of several scattered fragments, most notable of which is Landsberg 10, held by the Berlin Staatsbibliothek preussischer Kulturbesitz. We provide first a fragment from p. 175 of Landsberg 10 that eventually became variation XXI, but which in this form still echoes the offbeat figure referenced previously (from p. 4 of Ms. 77B), here making a seamless transition directly into variation XXII, the 'alla Don Giovanni.' We then follow this with the segment that Beethoven visualized coming next after the present Variation XXII. Of the 22 variations included in this continuity draft all but this one are incorporated into the final work. This is a very brief triplet fragment featuring a chromatic slide downward. This was numbered 19 by Beethoven and is found on page 176 of Landsberg 10.
When Beethoven returned to the composition in about 1823, most of the variations that he sketched at that time found their way into the final set of variations. One exception is another attempt at a variation in triplet form, found in Artaria 201. As Prof. Kinderman notes, the chromatic nature of this sketch and the triplet form bears some resemblance to variation XXVI. However, it is quite different and thus finds a place here.
At 6:49 of the MIDI, we conclude this examination of the unused Diabelli Variations with sketch material for the fugue that makes up variation XXXII of the final piece. These appear to be the last sketches made in 1819 before work on the variations broke off completely, since they alone are found amongst sketches for the Missa Solemnis, on page 21 of Wittgenstein. Four of these sketch fragments concern attempts to work out various counterpoint issues in the fugue. After these four fragments, we find a longer continuity sketch of an ascending figure that seems to be for the last part of the fugue. Following this is what Prof. Kinderman proposes are studies for intensification of the rhythm of these fairly colorless ascending figures. These figures appear on page 20 of Wittgenstein, which would be the preceding page, facing the previous fragment, so this theory makes very good sense. Finally, we come to a set of massive chords that form the transition from the fugue to the final variation. Here, after two long chords with a fermata, we return explicitly to Diabelli's waltz in all its simple-mindedness. It seems that the concluding minuet did not occur to Beethoven until he resumed work in 1823; a sketch from that time in Paris Ms. 96 is denoted "letzte Menuet," and appears to be the first germ of the idea that formed the finale that was eventually used for the final work.
We hope that these sketches will shed a bit of light on Beethoven's compositional process. They certainly testify to his fertile imagination, even moreso than does the completed work.