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Thread: The Beethoven Variations

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    Default The Beethoven Variations

    This is my second attempt at doing a Theme and Variations. With my first attempt, I used the A minor section of Rondo Alla Turka. But I didn't get very far with it. So this time I'm taking a different theme as my original theme and I'm varying it. It is the most well known theme in existence. Yes, the original theme that I'm varying is the first theme of Beethoven's fifth.

    So far I've come up with these ideas on how to vary it:

    • Fugue(this is probably going to be the hardest variation, so why not just get over it now and do the easier variations later)
    • Triple meter
    • Major key

    But I think that it deserves like 12 variations(also 12 is the most common number of variations I see in a Theme and Variations followed closely by 9).

    I'm not even sure if it is possible to marchify the theme, given that it is already in 2/4 time. To make it easier on myself, I went for a string quartet arrangement of Beethoven's fifth instead of the full orchestra version that Beethoven himself composed. Do you have any ideas as to how I could vary the theme?

    Here is the score as it is right now. I will update this later when I have more variations. Anyway, here is the score:

    https://musescore.com/user/50070/scores/5662044

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    I don't recommend having the fugue as the first variation, perhaps as one of the later variations. I also don't recommend writing out a full fugue, rather a fughetto as a full fugue will be too long for a single variation.

    For the first variation I recommend having just a simple variation of the theme as an introductory variation, then continuing on from there. First variations usually have the purpose of driving the music forward after the original theme, for example the first variation of the goldbergs which is much faster than the aria, and and the first variation of the 3rd movement of Beethoven's 30th sonata which seems more urgent and more forward driven then the previous movement. The first movement should be simple as to provide a clear connection from the original work to the variations. For example, in the Goldberg variations it would be incredibly awkward for say the 25th or 26th variations to be the first as they are too detached from the original theme.

    Connection is also important for all the other variations as well. You shouldn't just put the variations in a random order, they should have a clear connection. In the Goldberg variations, each variation is clearly led on from the next, and the final variation, the quodlibet acts as a grand conclusion of the variations, and also leads into the original aria.
    Last edited by Schoenberg; Aug-04-2019 at 10:34.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Schoenberg View Post
    I don't recommend having the fugue as the first variation, perhaps as one of the later variations. I also don't recommend writing out a full fugue, rather a fughetto as a full fugue will be too long for a single variation.

    For the first variation I recommend having just a simple variation of the theme as an introductory variation, then continuing on from there. First variations usually have the purpose of driving the music forward after the original theme, for example the first variation of the goldbergs which is much faster than the aria, and and the first variation of the 3rd movement of Beethoven's 30th sonata which seems more urgent and more forward driven then the previous movement. The first movement should be simple as to provide a clear connection from the original work to the variations. For example, in the Goldberg variations it would be incredibly awkward for say the 25th or 26th variations to be the first as they are too detached from the original theme.

    Connection is also important for all the other variations as well. You shouldn't just put the variations in a random order, they should have a clear connection. In the Goldberg variations, each variation is clearly led on from the next, and the final variation, the quodlibet acts as a grand conclusion of the variations, and also leads into the original aria.
    Yeah, well, I didn't mean to imply that the fugue variation would be the first variation once I finished all the variations, it most likely wouldn't. But it is the first one that I started working on, just to get rid of the burden of the fugue before doing the other variations. You said that the first variation is often a faster version of the original theme. Um, how would that work if the original theme is already on the fast end of Allegro? The most frequent way I see a speed up in variations is increasing rhythmic intensity, like eighths becoming sixteenths for example.



    This shows what I mean, the first 2 variations that Mozart wrote here both have 1 part at original speed and the other being intensified. Here is what Mozart does to vary the theme:

    Variation Bass Melody Dynamic Tempo Rhythm Other
    Variation I Normal speed Quarter notes become sixteenths Quieter No change No change
    Variation II Quarter notes become sixteenths Normal speed Closer to original No change No change
    Variation III Original speed Triplets instead of sixteenths Getting louder No change Triple meter feel
    Variation IV Triplets Original speed More variable No change Still triple meter feel
    Variation V Off the beat on beat 1 Off the beat on beat 2 Variable No change Feels slower because of syncopation
    Variation VI Intensified in A section, staccato in B section Stacatto in A section, intensified in B section More variable than Variation IV No change Back to on the beat
    Variation VII Back to quarter notes Keeps the rhythmic intensity Louder No change No change
    Variation VIII More melodic in nature Rhythmic slowdown Quieter Slower Slower Modulated to parallel minor
    Variation IX Back to quarter notes Back to quarter notes A bit louder Original tempo Original speed Modulated back to parallel major, poco ritard at the end
    Variation X Original speed Off the beat sixteenths Louder No change Intensified
    Variation XI More melodic A bit elaborated but not much Quieter Much slower Intensity is down a little
    Variation XII Constant sixteenths Lots of ornamentations Loud Much faster Intense Time signature changed, longest of them all


    But the theme that I am basing my theme and variations off of, the first theme of Beethoven's fifth, is already intense, both dynamically and rhythmically, what with the constant presence of the Fate Motif and the tempo being on the fast end of Allegro. It isn't like the theme Mozart used in my example, which was slow and nocturnal feeling. It is much easier to intensify a nocturnal theme than it is to intensify an already intense theme.

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    Neither of these points is right for the thread, so if there’s a response it’s probably best to put it somewhere else. It’s just that I was taken aback by these ideas.

    Quote Originally Posted by Schoenberg View Post
    the first variation of the goldbergs which is much faster than the aria,

    ,
    Are you sure about that? I mean I know that some people take it faster, but some people don’t.

    Quote Originally Posted by Schoenberg View Post
    In the Goldberg variations, each variation is clearly led on from the next

    Can you spell it out?
    Last edited by Mandryka; Aug-11-2019 at 20:44.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mandryka View Post
    Are you sure about that? I mean I know that some people take it faster, but some people don’t.
    Interesting in this context. However I think that the error most people do isn't to play the first variation too fast but to play the Aria too slow.
    Last edited by premont; Aug-11-2019 at 21:35.

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    Quote Originally Posted by caters View Post
    This is my second attempt at doing a Theme and Variations. With my first attempt, I used the A minor section of Rondo Alla Turka. But I didn't get very far with it. So this time I'm taking a different theme as my original theme and I'm varying it. It is the most well known theme in existence. Yes, the original theme that I'm varying is the first theme of Beethoven's fifth.

    So far I've come up with these ideas on how to vary it:

    • Fugue(this is probably going to be the hardest variation, so why not just get over it now and do the easier variations later)
    • Triple meter
    • Major key

    But I think that it deserves like 12 variations(also 12 is the most common number of variations I see in a Theme and Variations followed closely by 9).

    I'm not even sure if it is possible to marchify the theme, given that it is already in 2/4 time. To make it easier on myself, I went for a string quartet arrangement of Beethoven's fifth instead of the full orchestra version that Beethoven himself composed. Do you have any ideas as to how I could vary the theme?

    Here is the score as it is right now. I will update this later when I have more variations. Anyway, here is the score:

    https://musescore.com/user/50070/scores/5662044
    I think the first theme of Beethoven's Fifth is a really bad choice for a theme and variations. I know no other set of variations on a theme of this type. It is too strong, too distinctive, too motivically based, and too well known. Its principal characteristics include rhythmic intensification and motivic foreshortening, which is not conducive to variation treatment.

    I think you should do a careful survey of other sets of variations to see what kinds of themes tend to work well in this genre and which don't. Then pick a more promising theme. Then actually write some music before producing a detailed description of prospective variations.
    Last edited by EdwardBast; Aug-11-2019 at 21:55.

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    Quote Originally Posted by EdwardBast View Post
    I think the first theme of Beethoven's Fifth is a really bad choice for a theme and variations. I know no other set of variations on a theme of this type. It is too strong, too distinctive, too motivically based, and too well known. Its principal characteristics include rhythmic intensification and motivic foreshortening, which is not conducive to variation treatment.

    I think you should do a careful survey of other sets of variations to see what kinds of themes tend to work well in this genre and which don't. Then pick a more promising theme. Then actually write some music before producing a detailed description of prospective variations.
    Twinkle Twinkle Little Star is well known in the English speaking world, it is motivically based both in the bass and the melody, and the original lyrics are well known in France, and it likely was very well known in Mozart's time, but Mozart wrote a Theme and Variations based on it anyway. So clearly, a theme being well known doesn't mean that a Theme and Variations based on that theme will be dismissed by others or that it is a bad idea.

    And it is very typical for the Theme in a Theme and Variations to not be from the same composer as the Variations part of it. So nothing says that I can't do a Theme and Variations on Beethoven's fifth and be successful at it. The only thing I have noticed in common in between the Goldberg Variations by Bach, 12 Variations on Twinkle Twinkle Little Star by Mozart, and the fourth movements of the Eroica and Choral symphonies by Beethoven, all of which are in Theme and Variations form, is melodic simplicity in the theme that is varied.

    I haven't seen any rhythmic or motivic similarities. Some like Mozart's are very much motivically based, whereas others like Bach's Goldberg Variations are more contrapuntal than anything else. And still others like the fourth movement of the Eroica symphony start with the skeleton of the melody and only have the full melody in all its complexity show up later on. You could argue that that is what happens with the Choral symphony as well.

    And to further justify my point, here is why I went with a string quartet for my Theme and Variations instead of a Full Orchestra(original instrumentation) or Solo Piano(most common instrumentation for Theme and Variations:

    Instrumentation Pros Cons
    Full Orchestra Obviously the classic Beethoven's fifth sound, More routes of variation(strings vs woodwinds, etc.) Cutting off the orchestra at the Bb chord that ends the first theme sounds wrong
    String Quartet Don't have to worry about instruments getting overwhelmed, Still gets the essence of the orchestra across, Still more routes of variation, though not as many as with the orchestra Less full texture in the fortissimo(though, you could also think of this as a blessing, since there is more room for the instruments to stand out than there is in an orchestra)
    Solo Piano Jumps in the bass motion aren't as hard, Solo piano is the quintessential instrumentation for most Theme and Variations pieces A piano transcription of Beethoven's fifth is already hard to play, can you imagine even harder variations on top of that

    So because I'm not going with Solo Piano, I have more variation routes than I would for a Solo Piano piece. And because I'm not going full orchestra, I don't have to worry that say the woodwinds will get overwhelmed in a fortissimo moment or whatever.
    Last edited by caters; Aug-12-2019 at 00:36.

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    No one wants to listen to the theme from LvBs 5th in anything other than LvBs 5th.
    Although there was this:

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bwv 1080 View Post
    No one wants to listen to the theme from LvBs 5th in anything other than LvBs 5th.
    Although there was this:
    Than, they are being too close minded about Beethoven. Every composer after Beethoven has either borrowed from Beethoven or at least been influenced by him. It isn't that it isn't a good idea to base a Theme and Variations off of the first theme of Beethoven's fifth, it is them being too close minded about Beethoven, and especially Beethoven's fifth.

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    Quote Originally Posted by caters View Post
    Twinkle Twinkle Little Star is well known in the English speaking world, it is motivically based both in the bass and the melody, and the original lyrics are well known in France, and it likely was very well known in Mozart's time, but Mozart wrote a Theme and Variations based on it anyway. So clearly, a theme being well known doesn't mean that a Theme and Variations based on that theme will be dismissed by others or that it is a bad idea.

    And it is very typical for the Theme in a Theme and Variations to not be from the same composer as the Variations part of it. So nothing says that I can't do a Theme and Variations on Beethoven's fifth and be successful at it. The only thing I have noticed in common in between the Goldberg Variations by Bach, 12 Variations on Twinkle Twinkle Little Star by Mozart, and the fourth movements of the Eroica and Choral symphonies by Beethoven, all of which are in Theme and Variations form, is melodic simplicity in the theme that is varied.

    I haven't seen any rhythmic or motivic similarities. Some like Mozart's are very much motivically based, whereas others like Bach's Goldberg Variations are more contrapuntal than anything else. And still others like the fourth movement of the Eroica symphony start with the skeleton of the melody and only have the full melody in all its complexity show up later on. You could argue that that is what happens with the Choral symphony as well.

    And to further justify my point, here is why I went with a string quartet for my Theme and Variations instead of a Full Orchestra(original instrumentation) or Solo Piano(most common instrumentation for Theme and Variations:

    Instrumentation Pros Cons
    Full Orchestra Obviously the classic Beethoven's fifth sound, More routes of variation(strings vs woodwinds, etc.) Cutting off the orchestra at the Bb chord that ends the first theme sounds wrong
    String Quartet Don't have to worry about instruments getting overwhelmed, Still gets the essence of the orchestra across, Still more routes of variation, though not as many as with the orchestra Less full texture in the fortissimo(though, you could also think of this as a blessing, since there is more room for the instruments to stand out than there is in an orchestra)
    Solo Piano Jumps in the bass motion aren't as hard, Solo piano is the quintessential instrumentation for most Theme and Variations pieces A piano transcription of Beethoven's fifth is already hard to play, can you imagine even harder variations on top of that

    So because I'm not going with Solo Piano, I have more variation routes than I would for a Solo Piano piece. And because I'm not going full orchestra, I don't have to worry that say the woodwinds will get overwhelmed in a fortissimo moment or whatever.
    The proof of the pudding is in the eating, as they say. More elaborate planning and argument ^ ^ ^ won't make the case. How about you write some music and make the plans work, then we'll talk about it?

    What greater comfort does time afford than the objects of terror re-encountered and their fraudulence exposed in the flash of reason?
    — William Gaddis, The Recognitions

    Originality is a device untalented people use to impress other untalented people and to protect themselves from talented people.
    Basil Valentine

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    Quote Originally Posted by caters View Post
    • Fugue(this is probably going to be the hardest variation, so why not just get over it now and do the easier variations later)
    Last edited by hammeredklavier; Aug-15-2019 at 05:50.

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    Quote Originally Posted by hammeredklavier View Post
    Yes, that fugue has been mentioned to me multiple times when I talk about turning Beethoven's fifth into a fugue due to the similarities in Bach's subject and Beethoven's Fate Motive, and I am thinking of making the fugue stretto heavy instead of trying to incorporate the entire first theme into the fugue. I just have to figure out which strettos are better than others before I can decide on what strettos to use, so I'm making a stretto table for the subject, and I might also include the inverted subject in my stretto table(after all, Beethoven himself does use a not quite exact inversion of the Fate Motive in his symphony as part of the bass line). The fact that Beethoven's fifth has descending thirds in its motive makes it trickier than Bach's subject with the descending fifth, but certainly not impossible.

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