Anton Diabelli’s Project
In approximately 1819, Anton Diabelli (1781-1858), a well-known Viennese pianist, composer, and music publisher, approached eighty-three of the most famous composers living and working in Vienna to write one variation on a theme (a waltz) that he composed. One of those composers was Beethoven, who reportedly tossed aside the Waltz and called it a “cobbler’s patch.” This project was ultimately, for Diabelli, a way to publish music, and therefore, a lucrative business enterprise for his publishing firm. But its unique compilation was also part of a philanthropic endeavor to help widows and orphans of the Napoleonic Wars. Fifty composers other than Beethoven responded to Diabelli’s request, and the project generated a product that would be of great historical significance.
Part Two – The Diabelli Variations (1824)
The Fifty Diabelli Variations (only four manuscripts survive in the world), serve as a nationalistic representation of Viennese and the larger Austrian musical culture. Many of the composers included in this collection are indeed unknown to pianists today while some of them are quite famous-Schubert, Franz Liszt (who was only 11 at the time of publication), Carl Czerny. Absent from the collection is the most famous composer, Beethoven.
Part One – Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations (1823)
There is another collection by Beethoven himself; the famous ‘Diabelli’ Variations, Op. 120, published in 1823 by Diabelli’s firm as Part 1, while Diabelli’s set appeared in 1824 as Part 2. Beethoven wrote his own fifty-minute cycle with thirty-three variations, concluding with a minuet.