Diabelli Variations : Work information

Ludwig van Beethoven ( Music, Images,)
Performed by
Michael Oelbaum (Piano)

This work

Work name
Diabelli Variations
Work number
Op. 120
C major
1819-01-01 02:00:00

This recording

Jo Anne Ritacca
David B. Hancock
Recording date
1985-10-01 01:00:00

The Composers

Ludwig van Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven is regarded as one of the greatest composers in the history of Western music, and certainly the most dominant of the 19th century. In taking the Viennese Classicism of Mozart and Haydn to its limits and developing his own intensely personal style, his output heralds the birth of musical romanticism.

Although Beethoven's personal life was often turbulent, he managed to produce some of the most sublime music ever written. Among his most profound works can be counted the nine symphonies, the Missa Solemnis, many of the piano sonatas, the late string quartets, the Piano Concerto No. 5, and his only opera, Fidelio. All enjoy a permanent and important place in the musical canon.

Born in 1770, the son of an obscure musician in the provincial town of Bonn, Beethoven received his early musical training from his father and other local musicians. His talents for composition and the piano were quickly recognised and nurtured by court organist, Christian Gottlob Neefe, for whom the young Beethoven deputised.

Sent to Vienna in 1792 to study with Haydn, Beethoven spent the next decade establishing an enviable reputation as a virtuoso pianist and composer. He published an increasing number of works and enjoyed the patronage of Prince Lichnowsky and the Esterházys among others.

His gradual loss of hearing, though, threatened the course of his career. Realising that his condition was both incurable and permanent, Beethoven shunned social occasions to avoid revealing his potentially damaging secret. By 1818 he was virtually deaf and had to use conversation books to communicate.

Upon learning of his deafness, Beethoven suffered a period of fluctuating moods, powerfully voicing his despair in an 1802 letter to his brothers, the 'Heiligenstadt testament'. Managing to pull himself out of his malaise, Beethoven threw himself into the work that was now spreading his fame all over Europe.  

With financial stability finally achieved through the patronage of Beethoven's supporters, Archduke Rudolph, Prince Lobkowitz and Prince Kinsky, Beethoven's professional life reached a peak. His personal life, in contrast, was still in turmoil.

In 1812 he wrote a passionate love-letter to an unknown 'immortal beloved', now thought to be Antoine Brentano, a married and, hence, unavailable woman. This was the culmination of a series of unrequited or doomed love affairs and marked a turning point in the composer's life.

From this point on, Beethoven seems to have accepted the impossibility of marriage and, after a long period of diminished creativity, decided to dedicate his energies to composition. His recovery began in 1817 with the Hammerklavier sonata and continued with the Missa Solemnis, but further conflict with his sister-in-law over custody of his nephew, Karl, kept his personal life turbulent.

After the monumental Ninth Symphony of 1823-4, Beethoven dedicated his last years to the string quartet, though illness began to increasingly disrupt his compositional activities. Beethoven's relationship with his nephew also deteriorated and Karl's attempted suicide in August 1826 shattered the ailing composer. In late 1826 he developed jaundice and, after a lengthy illness, died on 26 March 1827; an estimated 10,000 people attended the funeral three days later.

Beethoven's influence, as both a composer and romantic artist, has proved enormous. His compelling private life and wonderful music ensured that his perceived 'heroic' struggle over personal obstacles became the idealised view of the composer in the romantic era. Similarly, there can be few composers born since that have escaped the shadow of his immense creativity and musicianship. He stands above virtually all others as one of  the most admired composers of all time.

Related Composers: Schubert, Mendelssohn, Weber

- MIDI FILE - Piano Sonata op.2 no.1: 1 Mov. (2'32'')

- MIDI FILE - Piano Sonata op.2 no.1: 2 Mov. (5'21'')

- MIDI FILE - Piano Sonata op.2 no.1: 3 Mov. (2'21'')

- MIDI FILE - Piano Sonata op.2 no.1: 4 Mov. (4'25'')

- MIDI FILE - Piano Sonata op.2 no.2: 1 Mov. (4'52'')

- MIDI FILE - Piano Sonata op.2 no.2: 2 Mov. (4'40'')

- MIDI FILE - Piano Sonata op.2 no.2: 3 Mov. (2'46'')

- MIDI FILE - Piano Sonata op.2 no.2: 4 Mov. (5'50'')

- MIDI FILE - Piano Sonata op.2 no.3: 1 Mov. (7'02'')

- MIDI FILE - Piano Sonata op.2 no.3: 2 Mov. (7'05'')

- MIDI FILE - Piano Sonata op.2 no.3: 3 Mov. (3'20'')

- MIDI FILE - Piano Sonata op.2 no.3: 4 Mov. (4'30'')

- MIDI FILE - from 5th Piano Concerto: Allegro (18'50'')

- MIDI FILE - from "Moonlight Sonata" op.27 n.2: 1th mov. (5'47'')

- MIDI FILE - Piano Sonata "Waldstein" (complete) (21'52'')

Track listing

  • Theme 0:54 min
  • Variation 1 1:47 min
  • Variation 2 0:50 min
  • Variation 3 1:30 min
  • Variation 4 1:02 min
  • Variation 5 1:00 min
  • Variation 6 2:04 min
  • Variation 7 1:26 min
  • Variation 8 1:33 min
  • Variation 9 2:06 min
  • Variation 10 0:38 min
  • Variation 11 1:05 min
  • Variation 12 1:08 min
  • Variation 13 1:18 min
  • Variation 14 3:34 min
  • Variation 15 0:40 min
  • Variation 16 2:12 min
  • Variation 18 1:34 min
  • Variation 19 0:50 min
  • Variation 20 2:40 min
  • Variation 21 1:22 min
  • Variation 22 0:56 min
  • Variation 23 0:50 min
  • Variation 24 2:54 min
  • Variation 25 0:46 min
  • Variation 26 1:26 min
  • Variation 27 0:55 min
  • Variation 28 1:02 min
  • Variation 29 1:28 min
  • Variation 30 1:51 min
  • Variation 31 7:04 min
  • Variation 32 3:13 min
  • Variation 33 3:55 min


In 1819 Anton Diabelli, looking for publication material for the new firm of Cappi & Diabelli, hit on the idea of commissioning both eminent and popular composers from the Austrian states to write a single variation on a simple waltz theme of his. The final publication appeared in 1824 with contributions from 50 composers, including Schubert and a youthful Liszt. Missing, however, was Beethoven's variation. Instead of a single variation, he had composed 33, prompting Diabelli to publish them in a separate collection in 1823 as opus 120.

 Beethoven began composing this monumental set of variations in 1819, interrupting work on the Missa Solemnis to do so. Having already composed around 20 variations, he returned to the project in 1822-3, at a time when the Ninth Symphony and Missa Solemnis were also in their latter stages, and added another 13.

A great favourite with pianists, in their individualism the Diabelli variations provide evidence of Beethoven's evolved approach to variation form. Rather than merely varying the surface treatment of the theme, a profound transformation of the material occurs. The set culminates in a wondrous fugue before the final, recapitulatory variation brings matters to a close.