Can one unpretentious little tune ever have been more honoured with compositional virtuosity than the little waltz which the then 39 year old publisher and impresario Anton Diabelli publicised and invited all the notable composers of the day to embroider and embellish with their own mastery? What seems remarkable now is how many chose to respond to Diabelli’s offer-cum-publicity-trick, 51 of them in all, not only Beethoven but the 11 year old Liszt – perhaps already wised up to the ways of the nascent music industry – and plenty of names that would now be considered also-rans in music history: Mozart’s son, Franz Xaver; the counterpoint teacher of Schubert and Bruckner, Simon Sechter; Friedrich Dionysus Weber, no relation of Carl Maria; and these are some of the names more noted in their own right.
Here’s a rare chance to hear their efforts in context with the monument but for which they would likely have been altogether forgotten, the 33 variations then elaborated by Beethoven who apparently refused to contribute to the picnic-basket of the original project but determined to make a magnum opus of his own from the tune, which scholars have declared to be his most adventurous work in terms of harmonic innovation (which is saying something).
Pier Paolo Vincenzi has undertaken his own scholarly research for this new recording, relying not only on the standard edition of the 51 collated variations but a more rarely encountered 1983 edition which offers two more variations than are usually found. Vincenzi’s discography on Brilliant Classics already includes a valuable set of the complete piano music by Wagner.
In 1819 composer and publisher Anton Diabelli got the idea to invite composers from the entire Austro-Hungarian Empire to compose variations on a waltz by his own hand. This was meant to be a monument of the musical art of his time, and a money maker for his publishing house. A lot of composers, 51 in total, answered to his request, and sent their variations, among whom celebrities like Liszt, Schubert, Hummel, Kalkbrenner, Moscheles. The most famous composer of the time, Ludwig van Beethoven, first rejected the idea in scorn, later however wrote his immense Opus 120, comprising no less than 33 variations on the theme, thus outpassing his “competitors” by an immeasurable degree in both invention and profundity.
This original concept contains all variations by the 51 composers of the waltz variations: many names have passed into total oblivion, but the concept is fascinating in its scope and insight.
Played with total dedication, brilliance and wit by Italian pianist Pier Paolo Vicenzi, who already made a highly successful recording for Brilliant Classics of the complete piano music by Wagner (BC94450).
• Booklet contains excellent liner notes written by the artist.