By Mary Nemet | From the January-February 2021 issue of Strings magazine
Six Variations with Coda on a Theme of Beethoven | By Böhm, Clement, Hellmesberger, St. Lubin, Mayseder & Schuppanzigh for violin & piano | Edited by Reinhard Goebel | Edition Offenburg | €16.80
In October 1824, the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung excitedly announced a new publication: Six Variations with a Coda composed by leading violinists of the day. Shortly afterwards, a review appeared, praising “a brilliant showpiece for virtuosos. The varied treatment of the violin offers its own charm, with the theme taken from Beethoven’s Choral Fantasia.” The Fantasia’s premiere in 1808, conducted by the composer, was a disaster, the work having been under rehearsed, and had to be stopped in the middle and restarted. Not to be put off, Leon de St. Lubin instigated this publication based on the Chorale’s themes, gathering a cohort of Viennese violinists around him. Perhaps the cheerful text and catchiness of the tunes won him over.
As was customary then, these leading performers were also composers. St. Lubin (1805–50) from Turin also wrote, among many other works, a violin Fantasia on a theme from Donizetti’s opera Lucia di Lammermoor and an Impromptu based on the second movement of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. His violin colleagues were luminaries of the day: Joseph Böhm (director of the Vienna Conservatory whose students included Hubay, Joachim, Ernst, and Dont); Joseph Mayseder and Georg Hellmesberger Sr.; Ignaz Schuppanzigh, Beethoven’s violin teacher and leader of Count Razumovsky’s string quartet; and not least, Franz Clement, who premiered the master’s Violin Concerto in D major.
These important violinists around Beethoven joined forces to produce scintillating Variations, in turns audacious in difficulty and graceful in style, incorporating double-stops, fast passagework, a variety of bow strokes, harmonics, trills, and chromatic runs. The same nine-bar Coda is played on the piano following each 16-bar variation. St. Lubin goes the extra mile with his 98-bar Variation that nicely rounds off these very effective showpieces for the violinist.
This modern edition is based on a recently discovered printed set of parts dated 1824, in the town of Cheb’s archives in the Czech Republic. Offenburg’s printing is commendable in its clarity and accuracy. Editor Reinhard Goebel provides a preface in both English and German, although he gives no detail about the six featured violinist-composers. Nevertheless, here is a bonanza for both budding and seasoned virtuosi. Paganini, stand aside.