Tablet - Portrait

Tablet - Landscape


Ludwig van Beethoven

This attractive set of variations was composed around the time Beethoven wrote his third symphony, the Eroica. It is based on the melody used in the British patriotic song, "God Save the King," and in its American counterpart, "My Country 'Tis of Thee." Beethoven would reuse this theme in his 1813 Wellington's Victory, Op. 91, written to celebrate the defeat of Napoleon.

The composer always showed some interest in European and domestic politics, as witnessed by the famous incident in which he crossed the name of Napoleon off the title sheet to the aforementioned Eroica Symphony and rededicated the work to Prince Franz Josef von Lobkowitz. This action had been prompted by Napoleon's declaring himself Emperor of Europe. It is not certain why Beethoven decided to use this British patriotic tune for a set of variations, but the results are quite interesting.

Beethoven presents this somber, stately theme straightforwardly at the outset, then proceeds to gradually divest it of its nobility -- not disrespectfully, but to showcase its hidden color. The third and fourth variations are rhythmically appealing, flashy takeoffs, making the source melody by comparison sound overly dignified. The fifth is a dreamy, almost romanticized variation, and the sixth a most energetic one. The last begins in a somber mood, then takes wing to become the most colorful and brilliant of all.

Beethoven had this set of variations published in Vienna in 1804. A typical performance of the work lasts from seven to eight minutes.