HDM: Abegg Variations

Abegg Variations

Schumann, the eponymous leader of Davidites everywhere and darling child of historical psychologists and psychoanalysts, wrote his Opus 1 piano variations in 1829-30. There is some speculation concerning the dedicatee, "Meta Abegg," whether a fictitious or schizophrenic character or one of his pre-Clara romances. The secret meanings in musical anagrams compromises a fascinating subject, especially when a composer names themselves. Instances of BACH in J.S. Bach's and of DSCH in Dmitri S(c)hostakovich's works lend them an intense personalization. Since we don't exactly know who the Abegg was, the use of the name may be nothing more than a fragmentary compositional game, like an improviser asked to make music on a string of random notes. (Mussorgsky's La Capricieuse for piano has a six note string of notes suggested to him by a certain Count Geyden.)
A few features of this composition that catch my ear and eye are:

  1. An interesting degree of plasticity within a variation. The rolled octave appears only on the first pianissimo repetition in the Theme. The First Variation is a fantastic exploration of different rhythms and textures which reminds me of the flexibility of William Byrd's song variations or J. Benda's Empfindsamkeit compositions.
  2. A strong Beethoven vibe in the cantabile Variation. The rhythm and song-like melody are reminiscent of Beethoven's sonata slow movements and the Waldstein trill under the ABEGG notes.
  3. A held C7 chord that slowly looses its tones in the ad libitum of the Finale. It's a rolled chord of silence with a very focusing effect. I have seen it before used most interestingly by Henry Cowell in the first three measures of "The Hero Sun" from his Irish Legends pieces.

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