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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770 – 1827)
Thirty-Three Variations on a Waltz by Diabelli, Op. 120 (1823) [58:41]
Lars Petter HAGEN (b. 1975): Diabelli Cadenza – for piano and EBow [4:46]
Ingrid Andsnes (piano)
rec. 3-4, 6-7 August 2015, Sofienberg kirke, Oslo

When Beethoven had finished his 32nd and last piano sonata in 1822 he set to work with an even bigger challenge: the Thirty-Three Variations on a Waltz by Diabelli. Diabelli was primarily a publisher but he had an idea about publishing a collection of variations on a little waltz by himself. Among the composers he approached was Beethoven, who turned down the proposal (this was in 1819) but later he obviously changed his mind and saw the possibilities of this rather simple tune in C major. When the inspiration flowed the result was one of the grandest of piano compositions with a duration of circa one hour. Not only is it a terrible challenge physically and technically but also mentally. Ingrid Andsnes, sister of Leif Ove Andsnes, spent four days recording it in an Oslo church, and to judge by the result it was four well spent days. The Simax recording team have provided her with well-balanced sound in an agreeable acoustic. She responded with classically noble playing, without exaggerated dynamics and over-romantic rubatos. Tempos are throughout well-judged and her shaping of phrases is unerring. As I followed her through the variations and enjoyed her way of breathing with the music, I became more and more convinced that this was going to be a reading for all tastes. There are no idiosyncrasies but is maybe less individual than, say, Stephen Kovacevich in his Philips recording from 1968, which has been a benchmark recording for close to half a century. Kovacevich’s tempos are generally faster which gives his reading greater urgency but Ingrid Andsnes’ slightly more relaxed approach has its own validity. Both versions are highly desirable – until we reach the end of the Fuga in variation 32. Beethoven inserts a short cadenza that leads over to the concluding minuet. Here Ingrid Andsnes has invited Lars Petter Hagen to write his own variation, an extra to be performed with Beethoven’s 33. It is an interesting idea and I can’t resist quoting Hagen’s own comment:

"I like to think of composition as a direct dialogue with history, and history is getting very present when you write for instruments created for music made 200 years ago. At the same time, the music is being performed today, here and now, by a wonderful pianist like Ingrid Andsnes, for example. This historical presence in the contemporary world is something that makes classical music concerts unique.

"There is nothing to add to Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations. Any attempted addition is really a subtraction. So this is my attempt to limit Beethoven, through intervention. I wanted to give the music a new framework or a shadow.

I was very happy and at the same time terrified when Ingrid asked me to write a new variation that would be performed together with Beethoven’s. It was obvious from the start that I was going to fail, and that is why I admire Ingrid’s courage. To make art you really need to believe in the impossible and to expose yourself to weakness and the possibility of failure. No-one said it better than Samuel Beckett: ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’”

What Hagen has created is a 5-minute-long piece for piano and EBow. This latter is – and here I quote Wikipedia – ‘a type of monophonic handheld electromagnetic string driver, invented by Greg Heet in 1969. The name Ebow stands for "Electronic Bow" (or Energy Bow). The EBow is a battery-powered electronic device for playing the electric guitar. The EBow uses a pickup - inductive string driver - feedback circuit, including a sensor coil, driver coil and amplifier, to induce forced string vibrations. The Ebow is monophonic, and drives one string at a time, producing a sound reminiscent of using a bow on the strings.’ Obviously it can also be applied to the piano strings and then produces rather esoteric sounds. Quite fascinating in fact but with no likeness either to the traditional sounds of a piano or to the music of Beethoven. Hagen gives the music ‘a new framework or a shadow.’ Does it also give increased value to the music? I have listened to the fugue, this new cadenza and the minuet a couple of times to test my reaction. I do feel it is a limitation on Beethoven, it is an intervention that breaks the natural flow of the music. Maybe I can get used to it, maybe this is a way to unite the world of Beethoven and the world of today’s music but I am sceptical.

However, I urge readers to give it a try and I hope that they find that they are less rigid than I am. It would be a pity if Ingrid Andsnes’ intelligent and finely sculpted reading of the Diabelli Variations would be ruled out for this reason. It is possible – pace Lars Petter Hagen – to skip the ‘intervention’ by programming the CD player. I understand this is Ingrid Andsnes’ first solo disc and I am looking forward to hearing more from her.

Göran Forsling
Track listing
1. Theme. Vivace [0:50]
2. Var. 1: Alla Marcia maestoso [1:56]
3. Var. 2: Poco allegro [0:55]
4. Var. 3: L’istesso tempo [1:28]
5. Var. 4: Un poco pił vivace [1:10]
6. Var. 5: Allegro vivace [1:06]
7. Var. 6: Allegro ma non troppo e serioso [1:46]
8. Var. 7: Un poco pił allegro [1:11]
9. Var. 8: Poco vivace [1:23]
10. Var. 9: Allegro pesante e risoluto [1:50]
11. Var. 10: Presto [1:42]
12. Var. 11: Allegretto [1:16]
13. Var. 12: Un poco pił moto [1:02]
14. Var. 13: Vivace [1:07]
15. Var. 14: Grave e maestoso [4:52]
16. Var. 15: Presto scherzando [0:37]
17. Var. 16: Allegro [1:01]
18. Var. 17: Allegro [1:04]
19. Var. 18: Poco moderato [2:04]
20. Var. 19: Presto [1:02]
21. Var. 20: Andante [2:53]
22. Var. 21: Allegro con brio – Meno allegro – Tempo primo [1:12]
23. Var. 22: Allegro molto, alla ‘Notte e giorno faticar’ di Mozart [1:01]
24. Var. 23: Allegro assai [0:58]
25. Var. 24: Fughetta (Andante) [3:46]
26. Var. 25: Allegro [0:51]
27. Var. 26: (Piacevole) [1:25]
28. Var. 27: Vivace [1:06]
29. Var. 28: Allegro [1:00]
30. Var. 29: Adagio ma non troppo [1:32]
31. Var. 30: Andante, sempre cantabile [2:04]
32. Var. 31: Largo, molto espressivo [5:04]
33. Var. 32: Fuga: Allegro [2:40]
34. Hagen
35. Var. 33: Tempo di Menuetto moderato [3:47]



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