St Petersburg, Concert Hall

Rudolf Buchbinder. Beethoven – Diabelli

New Variations on a Waltz by Anton Diabelli (by Lera Auerbach, Brett Dean, Toshio Hosokawa, Christian Jost, Brad Lubman, Philippe Manoury, Max Richter, Rodion Shchedrin, Johannes Maria Staud, Tan Dun, Jörg Widmann)

Variations on a Waltz by Anton Diabelli, selection from Vaterländischer Künstlerverein (by Johann Nepomuk Hummel, Frédéric Kalkbrenner, Conradin Kreutzer, Franz Liszt, Ignaz Moscheles, Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart, Franz Schubert, Carl Czerny)

Ludwig van Beethoven
Diabelli Variations, Op. 120

Performed by Rudolf Buchbinder (piano)

The New Diabelli Variations were commissioned by the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna, the Brucknerhaus in Linz, the Centro Nacional de Difusión Musical in Madrid, the Gewandhaus in Leipzig, the Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian in Lisbon, the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing, the Palau de la Música Catalana in Barcelona, the Philharmonie de Paris, the Stars of the White Nights festival in St Petersburg, the Ruhr Piano Festival Foundation and the Tonhalle-Gesellschaft in Zürich with the support of the Ernst von Siemens Music Foundation

Rudolf Buchbinder speaking of his Diabelli project marking the anniversary of Beethoven: “In 1819 Anton Diabelli, a hugely successful Viennese publisher, sent his own simple waltz to myriad musicians, proposing that they write one variation to his theme. Among the addressees were the Archduke Rudolph and Carl Czerny – apropos, a very young Franz Liszt was then studying under Czerny. Czerny told Diabelli, ‘That lad must be entrusted with a variation!’ The publisher agreed, and Franz Liszt’s first published composition was indeed to be a variation on a theme of Diabelli’s waltz! When one hears all fifty variations one after the other, there is a certain instant when one suddenly understands: this music could only have been written by a genius! You check – of course, it’s Schubert! He composed a lento variation in C Minor. Beethoven, though, initially rejected the invitation. First, in his view, Diabelli’s waltz was over primitive. Secondly, he did not wish to be lumped together with a band of other composers. In actual fact, however, it is only ‘primitive’ themes that can be embellished with rich variations! Beethoven proved this: four years later he presented his client with not one but a total of thirty-three variations!

The most amazing thing in the Diabelli Variations is that they encompass Beethoven’s entire life. They are a reminiscence of his life’s path. I even think that he didn’t particularly want them to be performed. I surmise that he guessed at their complexity – both for the pianist and for the audience. An entire thirty years passed before this monumental opus was first performed! Then it was played by Hans von Bülow.

In 2020, an anniversary year, I had the idea of doing a remake of the Variations. I selected twelve composers – who, very sadly, were to become eleven, as Krzysztof Penderecki, to my deep regret, passed away. So I received eleven variations from eleven composers, and they had all responded to my idea with enthusiasm. I am very pleased that Rodion Shchedrin composed a variation. Toshio Hosokawa brought me his variation to my hotel in Tokyo. I looked at it and was stunned: it was, as with Franz Schubert, a lento variation in C Minor! Tan Dun, an Oscar winner from China, Philippe Manoury from France, Jörg Widmann from Germany; Lera Auerbach also composed a variation… Tan Dun, on presenting me with his variation, said, ‘Here’s a present for you.’ I set them out in the same brutal fashion as Diabelli: quite simply in alphabetical order. And, as with Diabelli, a great dramatic script emerged! The lento variations ended up exactly where they needed to be. And I placed Jörg Widmann at the end, he wrote a dazzling variation, filled with humour, in the middle of which one hears the Radetzky March. It’s a fantastic finale, you couldn’t think of a better one!”

Age category 6+

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