Here is Beethoven’s first published work, written in 1782 when the composer was twelve years old. It’s a set of nine variations on a simple, stately march melody by Christian Ludwig Dressler (1734-1779), a now obscure German composer, operatic tenor, violinist, and music theorist.
First, we hear Dressler’s original theme, which is infused with military fanfare rhythms. Filled with a playful, improvisatory spirit, Beethoven’s variations begin with sly embellishments. Each becomes more adventurous and virtuosic. The final variation erupts in a dazzling display of keyboard fireworks. It’s pure, youthful fun.
The piece is set in C minor, a key that would later give rise to some of Beethoven’s most turbulent and heroic music, including the Pathétique Sonata, Coriolan Overture, and the Fifth Symphony.
Now, you may want to hear a set of variations from the mature Beethoven: the 33 Variations on a waltz by Anton Diabelli, Op. 120, which the music writer Donald Tovey called, “the greatest set of variations ever written.”
- Beethoven: 9 Variations on a March by Dressler, WoO 63 – Thema. Maestoso in C Minor, Mikhail Pletnev DeutscheGrammophon.com