The Diabelli Variations constitute Beethoven's last major work for the piano. In this position it would seem logical that they would attract attention for merely historical reasons, but the work went negelcted for decades after its publication in 1824. Hans von Bülow is credited with championing the work and resurrecting interest in it' laying the fault of its neglect to "the indolence of contemporary artists".
Von Bülow saw in the work more than just a set of variations, however skillfull and inventive. To him it was a combination of ppiano school and compendium of musical art, calling "Mikrokosmos of Beethoven's genius", which reads as if he had already heard Bartok. "Indeed", he wrote, "the whole image of the world of tone is outlined here, the whole evolution of musical thought and sound fantasy from the most contained contemplation to the most abandoned humor — an unbelievably rich variety". The thirty-first variation "could be called a reincarnation of the Bach adagio, as the double fugue that follows similary ressembles a Handelian allegro". The final variation's tempo di menuetto might then indicate "the rebirth of the era of Haydn and Mozart", making the last three variations taken together "a picture of the whole musical universe re-enacted".
Diabelli's tune is given in C major, two sections each of 16 bars. Beethoven keeps to the key of C throughout, except in Variations 9, and 28-31 where he visits C minor and in the Fugue Variation 32 in E-Flat major. Variation 22 makes use a theme from Mozart's Don Giovanni, Leporello's "Notte e giorno faticar", whithout disturbing the logic of variation form in the least. With the hindsight of history to guide him Robert Schumann called the final variation Beethoven's pianistic "fare-well to the listerner".
Since the piano played such an important part in Beethoven's life, it is not surprising that some of his greatest stylistic innovations ca be found in his compositions for this instrument. In addition to exploring its sonorities, he also created a new type of literature for it in his three sets of Bagatelles, the first set of which was completed in 1802.
Beethoven's bagatelles may be shorter than twenty measures, or they may be longer than seventy. Some of them are concerned only with one melodic or rhythmic idea ; others contain contrasting motives. And though many are in binary form, a variety of constructions can be found along them. They are distinguished from other piano music of the time, however, by the fact that none on them is a sonata, fantasy, dance, march, rondo or set of variations. Each is unique, and each can justly be termed and exquisite miniature painted in sound.Marcel Marnat, from the booklet
Ludwig van Beethoven
1 33 Variations über einen Walzer von Diabelli, Op. 120 50:55
2 11 Bagatelles, Op. 119 15:08
Recorded in Marlboro, Vermont ; September 3 & 5, 1957 ; & 30th St Studio, CBS Records, New York ; Febuary 16 & 18, 1966