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Ludwig van Beethoven, Sechs Variationen für Klavier (F-Dur) op. 34, Autograph

Beethoven-Haus Bonn, Sammlung H. C. Bodmer, HCB BMh 3/43

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Variations illuminate Beethoven's aesthetics of key

The Variations for Piano op. 34 were written in 1802, together with the so-called Prometheus Variations op. 35. In his famous letter of 18 October 1802 to the Leipzig publishers Breitkopf & Härtel, Beethoven's brother Karl offers them both cycles of variations (on his brother's behalf), emphasizing that they "have the worth of a work, as it is quite a new invention to write variations in a manner such as this, as without a doubt none have appeared like this."
In other words: unlike earlier piano variations, which today have WoO numbers, Beethoven considered op. 34 and op. 35 to be special enough to be given their own opus numbers. The composer actually broke new ground with these works. Much has been written on the "quite new manner" of op. 35. Op. 34 is, on the other hand, often somewhat neglected in specialist literature. Although Beethoven himself called them the "little variations" (op. 35 were the "large" ones), they do, however, deserve the label new on account of the sequence of their keys and construction. Each variation is consistently in a different key and metre - it was the first and only time that Beethoven took such a daring path through the keys, which are only related by thirds. This caused the Beethoven biographer Paul Bekker to conclude in 1911 that op. 34 encompassed "Beethoven's aesthetics of key in a small format". (J.R.)

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