The prowess of the young Liszt as an infant prodigy at the keyboard might have overshadowed his talents as a composer had he not received a number of commissions from sources who may have had no inkling that the boy could actually compose at all. The best known and earliest surviving of these pieces resulted from Diabelli’s request to many of the luminaries of the day each to compose a variation upon a Waltz by Diabelli
himself. Beethoven’s response—his last great piano work, in the form of 33 variations on the supplied theme—is a landmark in the literature of Western music. The remaining crowd of composers produced something of a curiosity, but certainly Schubert’s variation, for example, is well worth hearing. Young Liszt takes the harmonic basis of the theme and turns it into a daring piece of pyrotechnics, changing both the time signature (from 3/4 to 2/4) and the key (from C major to C minor) in the process.
from notes by Leslie Howard © 1994