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Variations and Fugue on an original theme in E flat minor, Op 23

'Paderewski: Piano Sonata & Variations' (CDA67562)
Paderewski: Piano Sonata & Variations
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Movement 01: Theme: Maestoso
Movement 02: Variation I
Movement 03: Variation II
Movement 04: Variation III: Un poco pi¨ mosso ed agitato
Movement 05: Variation IV: Animato
Movement 06: Variation V: Vivace ma non troppo
Movement 07: Variation VI: Andante ma non troppo
Movement 08: Variation VII: Un poco animato
Movement 09: Variation VIII: Allegro moderato
Movement 10: Variation IX: Meno mosso
Movement 11: Variation X: Gradioso
Movement 12: Variation XI: Allegro scherzoso
Movement 13: Variation XII: Maestoso
Movement 14: Variation XIII: Agitato
Movement 15: Variation XIV: Allegro feroce
Movement 16: Variation XV: Andantino, con tenerezza
Movement 17: Variation XVI: Moderato
Movement 18: Variation XVII: Allegro ma non troppo
Movement 19: Variation XVIII: Vivace
Movement 20: Variation XIX: Un poco meno mosso ma molto agitato
Movement 21: Variation XX: Allegro con fuoco
Movement 22: Fugue: Allegro molto moderato

Variations and Fugue on an original theme in E flat minor, Op 23
If Op 11 is very much a student work, generally light in tone, the Variations and Fugue on an original theme in E flat minor Op 23 is a different matter altogether. Yet this too had its origins in Paderewski’s early years: ‘The second work [of 1903] was the completion of my third set of Variations, which I had begun while still in Strasbourg [in 1885–6]. I had retained only a few of the variations from that period, so I wrote a series of new ones ending with the fugue. This work is my best piano composition, I think. It is extremely difficult and perhaps too long, but it contains quite a few things which were then almost a revelation in their character and novelty.’

Evidently, E flat minor was in the Swiss air in 1903, because both Op 23 and the Op 21 Piano Sonata are in this key. But whereas the Sonata spends most of its time assiduously avoiding the home tonality, the variations, by their very nature, are rooted in it. Yet the stalking pesante theme in bare octaves also avoids absolute confirmation of E flat minor until its final bars. It is also not in the traditionally balanced four four-bar phrases but in three eight-bar phrases, creating an ABA thematic structure for the ensuing twenty variations. These appear singly (II) or in groups (III–V), some staying close to the theme, others moving further afield. And sometimes different elements cut across such categorization (for example, the move to sharp keys in the central portions of V and VI). The ‘antique’ strain is evident in the mordents and other ornamentation of II, VII–VIII and XVII, but this is more than offset by what Paderewski seems to be identifying in his words ‘revelation’ and ‘novelty’.

Variation VI is a case in point. Its main motif is a halting, fanfare-like rhythm in the bass register, but the central portion, through its harmony and sonorous chording, seems to reach out to Debussy. The French dimension returns in VIII, whose delicate decorations parallel, even perhaps anticipate, Ravel’s evocation of the eighteenth century. Sometimes the groupings are formed partly through similarity (the move to the tonic major for X and XI) and partly through contrast (X is a grandiose, bell-like 3/4, XI is arguably Paderewski’s wittiest example of metrical play, faery-like in its sprightliness). Variations XII–XIII share the same newly developed motif, while XII and XIV return again to the world of the Brahmsian diaspora and the music of MacDowell. Variation XV—Andantino (con tenerezza)—is the strangest. It is in the key of F sharp, though the tonality is disguised by its characteristic crushed seconds which increasingly lend an atonal feel to the harmony. XVI brings the music back to more familiar territory, although the notation of the trills, involving both hands, is an interesting feature. As the set approaches the fugue, XIX revels in Brahmsian chunkiness and, as in the Piano Sonata, the fugue itself is prefaced, in Variation XX, by an initial exploration of its main theme. The fugue is a more sophisticated example of the genre than that in either of the other works on this disc—there is some extensive stretto and augmentation in the concluding pages—and the work ends with a resounding celebration of its home key.

from notes by Adrian Thomas ę 2007

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Details for CDA67562 track 33
Variation XIII: Agitato
Recording date
3 December 2006
Recording venue
Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Jeremy Hayes
Recording engineer
Tony Faulkner
Hyperion usage
  1. Paderewski: Piano Sonata & Variations (CDA67562)
    Disc 1 Track 33
    Release date: August 2007
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