The Variations and Fugue on an original theme in A minor Op 11 is a set of fourteen variations with a fugal finale. Its straightforward nature again shows Paderewski’s closeness to Brahms, with whom he had much contact when he was studying in Vienna in 1884–5. The theme, Andante non troppo, has an uncomplicated sixteen-bar structure and a melodic-harmonic simplicity (with a touch of modality at the start) that gives scope for the wide-range of treatments that follows. The early variations are standard fare, although III and IV introduce elements (feroce grace-notes, ‘oompah-oompah’ dance rhythms) that suggest that Paderewski might have had his tongue in his cheek. Variations V–VII are in the tonic major: V combines con forza with tranquillo in a flexible tempo rubato, VI implies that Paderewski knew Brahms’s ‘St Anthony’ Variations, and the accentual teasing of VII carries over into VIII, which reinstates A minor. IX returns to the style of the opening, this time with chromatic elaboration in the harmony, and is complemented by the gentle asynchronicity of X. XI is a march of the tumbril, rather than a conventional funeral march, though its sombre tone is immediately dispelled by the sweeping right-hand glissandos of XII. The academic side of Paderewski’s compositional thinking at this time is evidenced by the canonic treatment of XIII, mollified temporarily by the chordal musings of the last variation, XIV. The fugue that follows is really a pastiche of eighteenth-century practices, with trills aplenty. Its amiable quirkiness is assured by the contrast between the opening rising phrase and the ensuing chromatic descent, with its almost foppish ornamentation. Once again, the ‘antique’ shows its hold over Paderewski’s imagination.
from notes by Adrian Thomas © 2007