Coming to classical music as an adult can be challenging. It can feel like you’ve missed the boat if you didn’t have violin lessons at 3, grow up attending the symphony, or take a lot of music survey classes in college. So I especially appreciate productions like Theatre Three’s 33 Variations for helping me think a little bit more about music, in this case, Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations.
Between 1819 and 1823, the composer wrote 33 variations on a waltz composed by music publisher Anton Diabelli. The play 33 Variations, by Moises Kaufman (The Laramie Project, I Am My Own Wife) is about a Beethoven scholar who is obsessed with figuring out why Beethoven noodled so hard over what she considers a simple, schmaltzy waltz. [eds note: As Jac so gently points out in the comments, Kaufman did not write I am My Own Wife.]
Read the reviews above. The extra bonus for me was Clark Griffith, anchored on stage at piano throughout the performance, playing excerpts of the variations. Griffith won third place in the 2007 Van Cliburn Outstanding Amateurs competition.
A fugue, a waltz, a march; varying four notes, shifting keys and tempos: As leads Sharon Garrison (playing Katherine Brandt) or R Bruce Elliott (Beethoven) discuss what goes into creating the variations or how they differ or what Beethoven may have been thinking about at the time he created them, Griffith gives the audio examples.
It made me think more deeply about what I was hearing than I would have just coming cold to a performance of the piece. And it also made me want to hear the work in its entirety. There are only snippets performed and, as Lawson mentions in his review, the variations are played out of order. But here’s another problem with getting to know classical music: there are always SOOO many recordings to choose from.
So yesterday, I emailed Lawson, Scott Cantrell at the DMN and Olin Chism, who often reviews classical music for us at Art&Seek, and asked all three for their favorite recordings of Diabelli Variations:
Olin Chism: “I like the performance of William Grant Naboré but it’s on a Swiss label (Doron) and may not be easy to find.”
Scott Cantrell: “I really like the recent Diane Walsh recording on the small JDR label — JDR-1006. Just checked Amazon, and it is available. (For what it’s worth, she was a finalist in the 1969 Cliburn Competition.)”
Lawson Taitte: “I’d recommend Piotr Anderszewski on Virgin Classics or Stephen Kovacevich on Onyx.”
Lawson also pointed out that Diane Walsh is the one who performed the pieces in the Broadway production of 33 Variations. So that’s the one I’m going with. Unless of course, you have a favorite I should consider.