Brahms, Piano Variations

Johannes+Brahms+BrahmsProgramme: Brahms: Piano Variations

A  concert programme featuring Brahms’ main sets of piano variations, from the pyrotechnical Paganini-Variations to the majestic Händel-Variations. A most effective and gratifying journey through Brahms’s “pianistic protocols”

Johannes Brahms


Variations on a Hungarian Melody in D major, Op. 21, No. 2 (1854)

  • Thema. Allegro
  • Variation I.
  • Variation II.
  • Variation III.
  • Variation IV.
  • Variation V. Con espressione
  • Variation VI.
  • Variation VII. Poco più lento, dolce espressivo. Quasi pizzicato
  • Variation VIII. Ancora un poco più lento. Espressivo, dolce
  • Variation IX. Dolce
  • Variation X. Legato, dolce
  • Variation XI. Dolce
  • Variation XII. Espressivo
  • Variation XIII. Con forza—Allegro (il doppio Movimento)—Tempo I più animato

Variations on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 35 (1863)
Book 1
Thema. Non troppo Presto
Variation I.
Variation II.
Variation III.
Variation IV.
Variation V.
Variation VI.
Variation VII.
Variation VIII.
Variation IX.
Variation X.
Variation XI. Andante
Variation XII.
Variation XIII.
Variation XIV. Allegro

Book 2
Thema. Non troppo Presto
Variation I.
Variation II. Poco Animato
Variation III.
Variation IV. Poco Allegretto
Variation V.
Variation VI. Poco più vivace
Variation VII.
Variation VIII. Allegro
Variation IX.
Variation X. Veloce, energico
Variation XI. Vivace
Variation XII. Un poco Andante
Variation XIII. Un poco più Andante
Variation XIV. Presto, ma non troppo

Variations on a theme of Schumann in F-sharp minor, Op. 9 (1854)

Thema. Ziemlich langsam
Variation I. L’istesso tempo
Variation II. Poco più mosso
Variation III. Tempo di tema
Variation IV. Poco più mosso
Variation V. Allegro capriccioso
Variation VI. Allegro
Variation VII. Andante
Variation VIII. Andante (non troppo lento)
Variation IX. Schnell
Variation X. Poco Adagio
Variation XI. Un poco più animato
Variation XII. Allegretto, poco scherzando
Variation XIII. Non troppo Presto
Variation XIV. Andante
Variation XV. Poco Adagio
Variation XVI. Adagio

Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Handel, B flat Major, Op. 24 (1861) 

Variation I. Più vivo
Variation II
Variation III
Variation IV
Variation V
Variation VI
Variation VII
Variation VIII
Variation IX
Variation X. Allegro
Variation XI. Moderato
Variation XII. L’istesso tempo
Variation XIII. Largamente, ma non troppo
Variation XIV
Variation XV
Variation XVI
Variation XVII
Variation XVIII
Variation XIX
Variation XX. Andante
Variation XXI. Vivace
Variation XXII. Alla Musette
Variation XXIII. Vivace
Variation XXIV
Variation XXV


‘The Italian pianist Carlo Grante completed his “Masters of High Romanticism” series in at the Chamber Music Hall of the Berlin Philharmonic with 3 sets of Variations by Johannes Brahms. After the complete Ballades and Scherzos of Frederic Chopin we heard the 3 seldom-played piano sonatas of Robert Schumann: in all, an unprecedented feat involving mastery of the scores, stylistic adaptiveness, and an ability to clarify the musical processes – not to speak of the hair-raising technical difficulties of these programmes.

It is to the artist’s credit that he did not seek to dazzle with excessive, superficial effects but to communicate what was substantial. The Paganini Variations however require an element of the spectacular and of the circus. The final variation of the first book nearly touched the realm of Rachmaninov and not for nothing called forth a round of spontaneous applause. The exhausting tour de force through intricacies of the most virtuosic kind, in the compact but at the same time tricky Brahms writing for piano, Grante managed commandingly but also with a little risk-aversion, often lyrically withdrawn into introspection. In the Handel Variations, Grante provided a continuous, electrifying arc of tension, full of contrasts and built up with lucid clarity. Magnificently, with well-judged intensifications and rich colour registers, the Fugue unfolded. Not only in the trill-embellished, relaxedly swinging Siciliano did one think of Scarlatti, of whom Grante played two sonatas as encores, after enthusiastic applause.’

Isabel Herzfeld, Der Tagesspiegel (Berlin) – April 2014
(Translation by Helen Heslop)

‘As evidenced by the detailed analysis in Grante’s program notes, the pianist has applied a strong intellect and deep theoretical understanding to his study of these complex works, which by their very nature as variations depart from many of the patterns of theme, development and recapitulation that characterize most of classical music’s other forms. The flip side of that coin is an attitude of humility before the greatness of the art, manifested in the pianist’s apparently explorative approach.’

Jon Sobol, Blogcritics – February 2015