More on Diabelli

June 23rd, 2009 Uncategorized

A few more comments on the Diabelli Variations, following up on my post of April 1. 

Katherine, the musicologist/protagonist in Kaufman’s play, is more affected by the maestoso aspect than the martial.  For her the variation regally announces embarking on an odyssey that will demand courage.  Let us think of another situation in which Beethoven marks “maestoso,” the introduction of Op. 111.  There seems to be nothing regal about this, unless the scene means to depict the regent desperately embattled, perhaps with a deity hurling bolts of lightning.  Rather than majestic reassurance in the face of trepidation, Variation 1 in my mind embodies more of the rude juxtapositioning that Diane Walsh alludes to (see the recent issue of LISTEN, article by Linda Fowler, p. 30), and which Beethoven is so well known for.  A further confrontational interpretation comes from Dary John Mizelle, who explained the contrast in more nationalistic terms, that Beethoven’s first variation aimed to Germanicize the Italianate theme. 

And about that theme, once examined more fully, it shares much more musical DNA with themes of Beethoven beyond those already discussed.  For instance, the great c-minor sonata for piano and violin, Op. 30, No. 2, readily offers comparative examples.  Take the first four notes (plus initial grace note) of the Scherzo – same gesture as Diabelli’s motif.  We have just been discussing triple vs. duple meter.  The rhythmic argument of the Scherzo is founded upon this rivalry.  Then think of the opening motif of Beethoven’s first movement, and relate it to the eighth note bass figure of the Diabelli theme, measure 3 into 4.  This same grouping is then the principal subject of the 8th Symphony.