Friday, January 3, 2014

Montage # 137 – Theme and Variations: The Paganini Edition

As of January 31, 2014, this montage will no longer be available on Pod-O-Matic. It can be heard or downloaded from the Internet Archive at the following address:


This week's podcast is the first in a series of five exploring the well-raveled formula of themes and variations. In music, the variation is a formal technique where material is repeated in an altered form; the changes may involve harmony, melody, counterpoint, rhythm, timbre, orchestration or any combination of these.

'Theme and variation' structure generally begins with a theme followed by variations on that theme - each variation, particularly in music of the eighteenth century and earlier, will be of the same length and structure as the theme. This form may in part have derived from the practical inventiveness of musicians, and our first selection - Paganini's 24th caprice for solo violin - is an excellent example of the genre.

The work, in the key of A minor, consists of a theme, 11 variations, and a finale. This final caproce is widely considered one of the most difficult pieces ever written for the solo violin. It requires many highly advanced techniques such as parallel octaves and rapid shifting covering many intervals, extremely fast scales and arpeggios including minor scales in thirds and tenths, left hand pizzicato, high positions, and quick string crossing. No doubt, a showpiece for Paganini!

The theme from Caprice No. 24 is well known, and has been used as the basis for many pieces by a wide variety of composers. I put some of these together for you in this week's  montage. They include:

  • Johannes BrahmsVariations on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 35, for solo piano (2 books)
  • Franz Liszt – the sixth and last of his Six Grandes Études de Paganini, S.141. [I programmed the entire set]
  • Sergei RachmaninovRhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43 (1934), a set of twenty four variations for piano and orchestra

I think you will love this music too!

A compter du 1et janvier 2014, nos interventions en français (y compris le commentaire associé à cette baladodiffusion) sont exclusivement disponibles sur notre portail L'Idée Fixe.


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