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Joseph Lange (1751-1831), Unfinished portrait of
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
(Salzburg, Mozarteum)

Variaciones y tema (1ª serie)(Sobre el Tema con variaciones «Ah!, vous dirai-je, maman», de W. A. Mozart) / Variations and Theme (1st series) (On the Theme with variations «Ah!, vous dirai-je, maman», by W. A. Mozart)

For Violin and Piano

Interview Radio Clásica
Related texts
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Faced with the imminence, in 1991, of the bicentenary of the death of W. A. Mozart -a composer for whom I feel, not just admiration, but authentic veneration-, at the end of 1990 I began the composition of a series of short pieces for violin and piano for the which served as a starting point one of the best-known works he composed for the keyboard: the variations on the lied «Ah!, vous dirai-je, maman», emblematic in what they represent as a wise conjugation of the most extreme simplicity -that of the theme itself- with the most inspired constructive wisdom. In them, Mozart elaborates, within the conventional form of "theme with variations", a total of twelve small pieces derived from a popular theme, exposed at the beginning of the work.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Variations on «Ah, vous dirai-je, maman!»
Steven Lubin, fortepiano

For my Variations and Theme I set out to recreate Mozart's work without compromising my freedom of expression nor my own language, with the sole concession of reproducing the theme (accompanied by some elements, intertwined, of Mozart's Variations) as well as the original coda. But instead of starting my work with another's theme, as is usual, it makes its appearance at the end of it, directly linked to the Mozartian coda. All this is preceded by twelve short independent pieces, which are a free recreation of Mozart's original twelve variations; but, instead of varying the surface of those respecting their structure (as would have been mandatory in some classical variations), I preferred to take the most representative of each of the variations (we should therefore speak of their "character", and not of its structure, when defining what it is that has been varied), to compose from it a small autonomous piece based on a free development of the element in question (a scale, an arpeggio, a dynamic contrast, a dramatic aspect, a perpetual movement...). Each of the movements of my Variations and Theme bears as a title, by way of reference, the term Variation followed by a number that indicates where, in Mozart's work, the element that will be developed during it comes from, since, for reasons of musical strategy, the order followed by me is not the same as that established by Mozart: thus, the seventh piece of my work is entitled Variation I, and in it the characteristic or most outstanding feature of the first Mozartian variation (specifically, the perpetual movement of sixteenth notes) is elaborated.

First page of the manuscript of the Variations on
"Ah, vous dirai-je, maman!"
by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Each original variation was thus recreated in a double way. Once the total of twenty-four independent pieces had been obtained, I separated those that contained greater tradition from those that implied greater modernity, thus forming two independent series that closed in the same way, with Mozart's original theme and coda.
This is, thus, the structure of the first series of the Variations and Theme:

1. Variation XII. Mosso
2. Variation XI. Adagio e sempre rubato
3. V Variation VI. Scherzando
4. Variation III. Mosso e semplice
5. Variation IV. Adagio
6. Variation V. Allegro
7. Variation I. Prestissimo
8. Variation VIII (Minore). Andante
9. Variation II. Presto
10. Variation IX. Il più presto possibile
11. Variation X. Non troppo mosso e sempre rubato
12. Variation VII. Prestissimo
13. Theme. Andante

The score of the first series of Variations and Theme was my gift to Víctor Martín for his 50th birthday, and it was premiered on March 10, 1993 by its dedicatee, accompanied by Miguel Zanetti, in the Chamber Hall of Madrid National Music Auditorium.

Víctor Martín and Miguel Zanetti (ca. 1990)

Inner pages of the program of the premiere of the Variations and Theme (1st series)

The second series, for its part, was premiered in August 1991 by Agustín León Ara and José Tordesillas in the Chapel of the Hostal de los Reyes Católicos in Santiago de Compostela, within the concerts of that year of the International Course of "Music in Compostela", for whom it was commissioned and to whom it is dedicated, and at whose expense the score was edited.
Lastly, based on the first series, I made a transcription for two pianos in the fall of 2008, commissioned, dedicated and premiered by the Scarbó Piano Duo in October 2010, in the auditorium of the Casa de Cultura of Tres Cantos (Madrid). In 2004, the 1st series was recorded on CD by the violinist Jesús Ángel León and the pianist Miguel Ángel Muñoz.

Portada del CD grabado por Jesús Ángel León
y Miguel Ángel Muñoz (2004)


Grabación estreno: Dúo Scarbó (Laura Sánchez y Elena Hammel, pianos)

I. Variation XII. Mosso.
II. Variation XI. Adagio e sempre rubato.
III. Variation VI. Scherzando.
IV. Variation III. Mosso e semplice.
V. Variation IV. Adagio.
VI. Variation V. Allegro.
VII. Variation I. Prestissimo.
VIII. Variation VIII (Minore). Andante.
IX. Variation II. Presto.
X. Variation IX. Il più presto possibile.
XI. Variation X. Non troppo mosso e sempre rubato.
XII. Variation VII. Prestissimo.
XIII. Theme. Andante.

First page of the Variations and Theme (1st series)

Interview with Jacobo Durán-Loriga and María Santacecilia, on the occasion of the publication of the CD by Jesús Ángel León and Miguel Ángel Muñoz

Broadcasted on the program "La noche cromática" on Radio Clásica of Spanish National Radio, on October 11, 2004. Mozart's original variations, performed by Daniel Baremboim, are interspersed with those of my Variations and Theme

Related texts

Variations on variations
By Jesús Ángel León
(Article published on the website of the CNICE -National Center for Educational Information and Communication- on November 24, 2005)

The contemporary Spanish repertoire for violin and piano is rarely played by performers. Inevitably, this leads to a great lack of knowledge of it by the public. For this reason, the interest shown by the "Coca-Cola Spain" Foundation in editing and distributing, without commercial purposes, a recording that I had made for Radio Clásica, together with the pianist Miguel Ángel Muñoz, in March 2003, seemed to me a source of immense satisfaction. Along with Xavier Montsalvatge's Tres Policromías and Manuel Valls's Invencions, of which records already existed although difficult to find, two world first recordings completed the CD: Antón García Abril's Sonata de Siena, dated 1955, and the Variations and Theme (1st series) by José Luis Turina, from 1990.
The Variaciones y Tema by José Luis Turina are based on other variations, those due to Mozart on the theme "Ah, vous dirai-je, maman!", and constitute, in my opinion, one of the fundamental works of the Spanish repertoire for violin and piano. The work is dedicated to Víctor Martín, and had been premiered in Madrid by the dedicatee, together with Miguel Zanetti, in a recital held at the Chamber hall of the National Auditorium in 1993. However, there was no recorded version. The musical interest of this work, together with that of the Sonata de Siena, which was in the same situation, and of course, the convenience of re-recording the works by Montsalvatge and Valls, so difficult to find, were the keys of the project.
The CD was presented at the twelfth edition of "Soria's Musical Autumn" with the assistance of the authors. At the end of the recital, García Abril congratulated himself on having attended something so unusual: you can fill a room and make it vibrate with a Spanish and contemporary chamber program. It is only necessary to avoid the inertia of the usual schedules, and firmly believe in the convenience and the need to explore new territories. The album had an excellent distribution by the Foundation among institutions, centers and professionals, and it did not take long to return to several programs on Radio Clásica, the house that had seen it born.
José Luis Turina's production for violin and piano is not very extensive when compared to the rest of his catalogue. Next to the work that we will comment on, it is necessary to point out a 2nd series of variations on the same work by Mozart, commissioned by "Música en Compostela". This series was composed at the same time as the first one, and is guided by the same construction principles, but it presents a more advanced aesthetic profile. It was premiered in Santiago de Compostela by Agustín León Ara and José Tordesillas in 1991. José Luis Turina's catalog for violin and piano is completed with Movimiento from 1978, and a Sonata commissioned by the Spanish embassy in Bulgaria and recently premiered in that country.
The Variations and Theme (1st Series) on the theme with variations "Ah, vous dirai-je, maman!" by Mozart, composed on the occasion of the second centenary of the composer's death, constitutes one of the most lucid tributes to the music of the past that can be found in the Spanish chamber music repertoire. Contrary to what is customary in the tradition of the genre (presenting the theme at the beginning and subsequently varying its appearance while respecting its structure), José Luis Turina opts for the opposite path: the theme appears at the end, and thus becomes a sort of of consequence, inference or conclusion, drawn from variations that function in some way as premises. The theme is not a generating element for successive comments or digressions, but the thesis, the purpose sought through the various attempts. His task is not foundational but final, not only as a matter of successive order but, above all, of intention: the theme becomes the objective towards which the variations tend. His last appearance, as the culmination of the growing tension of the twelfth variation and without a break in continuity with it, reaffirms his role as a meta.
Each variation is a comment, in turn, of one of Mozart's variations, but a free comment, not subject to the permanent need to support a structure but rather aimed at placing the focus on a specific detail: a scale, a melodic or harmonic element, a dynamic contrast... Perhaps for this reason, the author has commented on occasion that perhaps we should speak of a small suite rather than variations in the strict sense.
The fact is that each piece is dressed in a different costume (not necessarily in accordance with that of the variation from which it comes) and can become meditation, humor or theorem, but it always denotes the extraordinary constructive capacity of José Luis Turina, that craftsmanship in the writing that generated the praise and admiration of Henri Dutilleux* and that shines through in all his work. The scholist aroma of the eighth variation, which reminds us of César Franck, the perpetual movement of the seventh, with its mischievous quote from Paganini, the humor of the tenth, with the insect whisper of the violin in ponticello and with abruptly interrupted mute by the deep thunder of the piano, the superb architecture of the eleventh variation with its arpeggios on the four strings, or the irony of the twelfth, with those scales typical of the "Pianists" of Saint Saëns in his Carnival of the Animals- , all the resources are faithful exponents of a ductile but rigorous aesthetic, full of cultured winks towards other cultural landscapes, but firmly rooted in a current world of its own.
Each variation, then, is referred to its source in Mozart's KV 265, but the order varies here for reasons of pure musical strategy. In the Radio Clásica program "La noche temática", Jacobo Durán Lóriga recently made an original montage of my recording of the work, in which each variation of José Luis Turina was preceded by the original Mozart recording from which it derived. The experiment turned out magnificent, since it allows freeing oneself from the servitudes of memory, and appreciating with great precision each specific link between the original and the gloss.
The composer Pablo Rivière has commented on the work, highlighting the Borgesian emblems that it undoubtedly treasures: "... the order of the variations is different from that established by Mozart and for this reason each one bears as a title, as a reference, the number that indicates which one it comes from. An intricate mechanism of mirrors is created in this way (in addition to Mozart's own variations, which Turina offers us in its two series) that is very much like a Borgesian labyrinth"**. There are, indeed, labyrinths and mirrors. We have already observed that the general plan of the work, with the theme at the end, constitutes an inverse image to that of the traditional model, the replica that returns a mirror. But there is also a dense network of references and allusions, both to the original elements that act as generators of each variation, and to other incidental elements that complement and illustrate the discourse. With all this, intertextual procedures, constructive capacity and wise gradation of tensions, José Luis Turina offers us one of the most beautiful works of the Spanish chamber repertoire.

* In October 1986, and during the presentation of the IV Reina Sofía Prize for Composition, Henri Dutilleux said about José Luis Turina: "An artist who is both intelligent, sensitive, imaginative and concerned with clearly expressing his thoughts in an entirely current language, totally of our time, without concessions to ease... The great musicians now recognized as "contemporary classics" -Strawinsky, Bartók, Schoenberg, Berg... to name but a few, after Debussy, de Falla, Ravel...- have had, each in their own way, that taste for a job well done, irreproachable at the level of the métier, regardless of their genius. This quality, which is not so common in our time, is a joy to find in a young musician like José Luis Turina, all the more so when it is associated with other qualities in the field of invention".

** Notes to the program of the aforementioned CD.

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(Score and part without watermarks available at www.asesores-musicales.com )