Ludwig van Beethoven

Variations (12) on a Russian Dance from Wranitzky's "Das Waldmädchen," for piano in A major, WoO 71

    Description by John Palmer

    By the end of his life, Beethoven had composed nearly seventy sets of variations. Most of the early ones were based on themes by other composers and were not given opus numbers, which Beethoven reserved for what he felt to be his more substantial, important works. The Variations in A major on a Russian Dance from Wranitzky's "Das Waldmädchen," WoO 71, were composed probably in November, 1796, while Beethoven was touring Bratislava and Budapest. The set was dedicated to Countess Anna Margarete von Browne, whose husband, Count Johann von Browne (1767-1827), was one of Beethoven's chief early patrons. The Countess also received the dedications of the Piano Sonatas, Op. 10, and the Variations, WoO 76. The WoO 71 Variations were published in April, 1797, by Artaria in Vienna. The Brownes once gave Beethoven a gift of a riding horse. Beethoven soon forgot about the animal, and his servant began to hire it out for his own benefit. When Beethoven received a bill for the horse's food, he was reminded of the animal and eventually got rid of it.

    Das Waldmädchen (The Forest Maiden), a ballet with music by Paul Wranitzky (1756-1808) and scenario and choreography by G. Traffieri, received its première at the Kärntnertor Theater in Vienna on September 23, 1796, playing another sixteen times that year. Undoubtedly, Beethoven hoped to capitalize on the opera's popularity by composing a set of variations on one of its themes. Apparently, the "thème russe" on which Beethoven based his variations was composed by Giovanni Giornovichi (?1740-1804), not Wranitzky.

    The theme, in A major and marked Allegretto, is a perfect example of a Classical-era periodic melody, except that the main tune is five measures long. This five-measure idea happens twice, first moving to the dominant, then the tonic. A contrasting idea follows, which is coupled to a return of the opening theme. Typically, this second half is also repeated. In all but the eleventh and twelfth variations of WoO 71, Beethoven follows this repetition scheme. All variations are in A major except the third, seventh and eleventh, which are in A minor.

    In general, the variations of WoO 71 are in the decorative, high-classical style and maintain the harmonic movement of the theme. We find none of the probing of harmonic relationships as in the Variations in F major, Op. 34, and none of the multiplicity of material to be varied as in the Variations in E flat, Op. 35. At times, Beethoven stresses a single aspect of the theme. In the first variation, for example, the thirds and seconds that characterize the theme are expanded to tenths and ninths, while the actual stepwise movement of the theme is made clear in the second variation in the octaves of the right hand. The theme moves to the left hand in the fourth variation and Beethoven's writing becomes more linear in the sixth, as the hands enter separately. The seventh variation, in A minor, makes extensive use of the pitch B flat and its pathetic half-step relationship to the tonic. The eighth variation inverts the leaps of the theme while maintaining the basic melodic shape and the tenth variation, with its triplet motion, emphasizes the repeated-note characteristic of the theme. The Allegro coda develops chiefly a motive from the central, contrasting segment of the theme before moving through fragments of the main theme and closing in a propulsive 6/8 meter.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Thema: Allegretto -
    2. Variation 1 -
    3. Variation 2 -
    4. Variation 3 -
    5. Variation 4 -
    6. Variation 5 -
    7. Variation 6 -
    8. Variation 7 -
    9. Variation 8 -
    10. Variation 9 -
    11. Variation 10 -
    12. Variation 11 -
    13. Variation 12

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2013 Brilliant Classics 94630
    2013 Decca 4785093
    2011 Brilliant Classics 94052
    2011 Denon Records
    2011 Denon Records
    2010 Naxos 8572160
    2010 Decca
    2010 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099962951128
    2009 Haenssler 98599
    2009 EMI Classics 13251
    2009 BBC Legends 42602
    2008 Edition Klavier-Festival 8553115
    2008 Brilliant 93761
    2008 Archipel / Archipel Records 0376
    2007 Brilliant Classics 93525
    2007 Cascade Records 2200
    2007 Decca 4758401
    2007 Brilliant Classics 93183
    2006 Globe 7002
    2005 Warner Classics
    2005 Warner Classics
    2004 EMI Classics 85761
    1998 Brioso Recordings 115
    1997 Deutsche Grammophon 453 733-2GCB8
    1995 Globe 5095
    1992 Vox 3017
    1992 EMI Music Distribution 67366
    Cascade Records 2235
    London 436834
    Tuxedo Music 1060
    Brilliant Classics 93183/1
    Brilliant Classics 93525/54
    Teldec
    Tuxedo Music 9001
    MCA Classics 10319