The Diabelli Squared Project

Lia Jensen-Abbott, Director of the Albion College Diabelli Squared project.
Lia is an Associate Professor in the Albion College Music Department, and co-founder of the Albion College International Piano Festival and Competition along with her husband, David Abbott..

As a product of developing my dissertation on the project undertaken by Anton Diabelli, it has become my great passion to embark upon a rather innovative new performance and research connection:  The Albion College Diabelli Squared Project.  

Diabelli’s Project

In the early 17th century, approximately 1819, Anton Diabelli (1781-1851) conceived of a unique project that would bring together all the major composers of the day in a single publication. Based on a 32-bar waltz theme, Diabelli solicited active composers from the Vienna and Austrian region to submit a variation on the presented theme for a collected publication through his publishing firm. Fifty-one composers submitted works which were then published in two volumes. See Diabelli’s Project and Variations on the menu bar for more information on Diabelli’s Project. Volume 1 consists of 33 variations from Beethoven, while volume 2 presents the variations from 50 other composers of the day.

Genesis of the Diabelli Squared Project

While my own dissertation deals extensively with the Beethoven set, and superficially with the Diabelli collection, it has become my great passion to embark upon a rather innovative new performance and research connection: The Albion College Diabelli Squared Project.

As our society has undergone a great schism in terms of diversity and what it means to think and co-exist globally, I realized that variation form is EXACTLY the same kind of construct-the variations function at once to underscore the commonalities of the theme itself, but they also serve to explore, champion, and embrace, difference.

As our society began to struggle over the last several years with issues of racial tolerance and diversity /equality issues, I began to consider parallels with the variations structure itself. If we are indeed going to be able to work together as a global society, we must be able to embrace difference as well as find commonalities between our varied cultures. Variations form at its most inherent structural core underscores this exact phenomenon. Different individuals then subject a single theme, serving as the unifying element, to diverse treatment in this case.  Each variation, then, stands as its own piece and exposes the beautiful differences and subtle diverse nuances of the theme. Literally, variations expose variety and elevate diversity as an element to be appreciated and championed. But underneath, every single variation maintains some kind of connection with the original theme.  To my way of thinking, the process of variations is a commentary about social justice from a psychological, cultural, musical, and structural viewpoint.

From that basic construct, then, I envisioned the idea to learn the old two masterworks, to commission a new set of variations, and finally, to add the larger global initiative of the ongoing submission website. Literally, this project will never end. It will actually be alive as a musical process.  I will begin with a series of lectures about all three works, and performances in the next year, and as new variations are added, I can create new performances. I will be responsible for ordering the variations, so it is possible that with each new performance there will be a new ordering of the variations. In essence, I truly believe that this is the core of liberal arts at work.

Phase 1

In the first phase of the project, we commissioned ten famous and not so famous composers from around the globe to write new variations on the Diabelli theme.  These 10 variations demonstrate well the diversity which was hypothesized for the project, and form a solid foundation for moving forward with phase 2 of the project.

Phase 2

Through the provisioning of this website, in Phase 2 of the project we showcase the composers and recordings of the commissioned pieces from Phase 1, and encourage the building of a global community of interested composers and musicians around the Diabelli project.

We invite participation from composers from any part of the world to submit a new variation at any time. This composition/performance project will be a living, vibrant project, with new material constantly being added to the Albion College Diabelli Squared performance project.

Each submission will be performed and recorded here at Albion College, and presented on the website for your consumption. My ultimate plan is to give a series of lectures on the original Fifty Diabelli Variations, the Beethoven Op. 120, and the newly commissioned works by Albion College.

This project is funded through generous grant from Albion College.