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Throughout the ages, composers have prized cycles of variations. Why? Because they could give free rein to their imagination while maintaining a common thread. The wealth of ideas in the finale of Mozart’s G major Piano Concerto K. 453 is breathtaking, in which a Papageno-like theme is presented in multiple transformations without losing its outline – an art that can also be admired in the Allegretto of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony.

Arnold Schoenberg confessed that the First Viennese School in particular had shown him “how to create new forms from the base material”. This can be seen not only in his Variations for Orchestra, but also in the Passacaglia of his pupil Anton Webern, which, however, is more oriented towards Brahms. With his Haydn Variations, the latter presented a prime example of this genre – similar to Marin Marais, whose Folies d’Espagna were based on a Spanish melody that was known throughout Europe.

Paul Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphosis on themes by Carl Maria von Weber, on the other hand, are somewhat of a misnomer. They don’t offer variations on individual themes, since Hindemith varies entire works by Weber. César Franck’s Variations symphoniques are characterised by rhapsodic inventiveness, while Alberto Ginastera’s Variaciones concertantes are tremendously virtuosic. The same applies to Boris Blacher’s brilliant variations on Pagagnini’s famous 24th Violin Caprice. In the composition by the adopted Berliner, the vertiginous string runs are sometimes underpinned by a boogie bass.

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