The Variations and Fugue for Piano in E♭ major, Op. 35 are a set of fifteen variations for solo piano composed by Ludwig van Beethoven in 1802. They are commonly referred to as the Eroica Variations because variations on the same theme were used as the finale of his Symphony No. 3 Eroica composed the following year.
The theme is not original to Beethoven. Noted musicologists Leon Plantinga and Alexander Ringer both acknowledge the “Beethovenian” nature of the Eroica Theme, but these scholars assert that the inspiration for the theme came from Classical era composer Muzio Clementi. Plantinga theorizes that its source is Clementi’s Piano Sonata in F minor, Op. 13, No. 6, while Ringer maintains that the first movement (Allegro con spirito) of Clementi’s Piano Sonata in G minor, Op. 7, No. 3 was its inspiration (Alexander L. Ringer, “Clementi and the Eroica,” The Musical Quarterly vol. 47, no. 4 (Oct., 1961): 454-68, and Leon B. Plantinga, Clementi: His Life and Music (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977, pp. 103-05).
The theme was a favorite of Beethoven's. He used it in the finale of the ballet music he composed for The Creatures of Prometheus (1801) as well as for the seventh of his 12 Contredanses, WoO 14 (1800-02) before being the subject of the variations of this work and of the later symphony. It begins thus:
In a departure from the classical theme-and-variations form, Beethoven opens the work not with the main theme, but the bass line to the main theme. He then follows with three variations of this bass line before finally stating the main theme. This approach was carried over from the ballet music, where it represented the gradual creation of life forms by Prometheus. The variations in the Eroica Symphony follow this same pattern. In another departure from traditional variation form, after the fifteen variations of the main theme, Beethoven finishes the work with a finale consisting of a fugue followed by an Andante con moto.
The work lasts about 25 minutes.
- Eroica Variations: Free scores at the International Music Score Library Project
- Recording by Katherine Chi from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in MP3 format
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