|Bruno Monsaingeon on Beethoven's Diabelli Variations
The sheer size of the Diabelli Variations (over an hour of music) and the boldness of its conception make it the historical pinnacle of all the literature for piano. It parallels J S Bach's Goldberg Variations and is Beethoven's pianistic testament.
In 1819, Austrian music publisher and composer Anton Diabelli invited about fifty of the most prominent composers of the day to write a variation on the theme of a waltz of his own composition, for a collective publication. Among those who participated in this project were Czerny, Schubert, Hummel, and the young Liszt who was then only eleven. Beethoven at first declined the invitation. However, he eventually changed his mind and, after four years of labour, finally produced not just one but a collection of thirty-three variations. A prodigious work that, technically as well as emotionally, fathoms all the possibilities of the genre. A veritable labyrinth in which the performer must, aside from overcoming enormous instrumental difficulties, discover and convey the guiding thread.
Very few pianists have dared tackle this masterpiece. Yet Piotr Anderszewski's early reputation was in fact built around his confrontation with this intimidating opus. While most performers wait to reach so-called maturity before approaching a work of such massive scope, Piotr Anderszewski - at that time a complete unknown and only twenty-one years of age - included the Diabelli Variations in the programme he performed at the prestigious Harveys Leeds International Piano Competition in 1990. This bold move was unprecedented: candidates in such competitions usually attempt to sparkle without taking risks, in more easily accessible works by Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Liszt and company. Anderszewski's performance skyrocketed him into both public and critical acclaim...
Nearly ten years later, a film and a CD have been made. The film begins with a series of illustrated explanations in which Piotr Anderszewski gives us his analysis of the Diabelli Variations. It is followed by a complete performance of the piece, filmed and edited in such a way as to reconcile spontaneity, perfection of the sound and eloquence of the pianist's expression.
There is such a strong identification between the performer and the music that I would not be surprised if Piotr Anderszewski were to become equated with the Diabelli Variations in much the same, phenomenal way Glenn Gould is mythically equated with the Goldberg Variations.
© Bruno Monsaingeon 2000