A German Variation: Brahms - Variations on a theme by Haydn (St. Anthony Variations)


Classical Academy| On This Day...

Classical music is one of the most important aspects of Germany's cultural heritage. Long before the separate Germanic states were official united as one country (celebrated in Germany each year on 3 October) they were united through their culture, sharing a long history of master composers: Bach - Handel - Gluck - Haydn - Beethoven - Schubert - Mendelssohn - Schumann - Brahms - Wagner...

 

With such an impressive pedigree it is no wonder that some of their greatest composers have taken inspiration from their musical forefathers. Johannes Brahms' "St. Anthony Variations", composed in the summer of 1873, are based on a theme Brahms found in a work for wind ensemble supposedly written by the great Joseph Haydn. The theme is known as the "Chorale Saint Antoni", and following his theme Brahms composed eight variations and a magnificent finale. Brahms wrote two versions of the work - one for two pianos, and one for orchestra.

 

Nowadays, it is believed that the theme isn't by Haydn at all, and that Brahms was duped by a publisher attributing his piece to the famous composer. However, some scholars think that Brahms paid tribute to Haydn at another point in the work by quoting Haydn's "Clock Symphony" near the end of the finale.

 

In this album the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra give a gorgeous performance of these wonderful variations. Listen out for Brahms' cheeky use of the triangle in the lively finale!