by Ian Carmalt



Variationen B-dur, zur übung der faust



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This piece is the result of studying "The creative process" (that being the title of a course module) at Anglia Polytechnic (now Ruskin) University. The task was to study a piece that a previous composer had left incomplete, and to continue if not complete the work in question. When searching for an incomplete piece on which to work, I bore in mind the question of what constitutes completion and what constitutes composition.

I consulted Volume 2 of Howard Ferguson's complete edition of Schubert's piano sonatas. I had previously written a completion of the third movement of D.840 and had an ambition of working on the finale, which seems to get stuck in a rut early in the development and goes no further. I studied the monothematic allegretto in C major, D.346 and the two allegros D.570 and 571, all of which could be finished by repeating music written by Schubert, transposed into appropriate keys where necessary.

It seems likely that Schubert himself recognised the weaknesses of these pieces and consequently abandoned them. The allegretto would have been too long for its theme to sustain the interest; the material of D 570 is not very convincing; and the existing development of D 571 is based entirely on the material of the second time bar. It seems unfair to a composer's reputation to resurrect works which are below his usual standard.

As regards the question of composing completions, if one chose to finish D.346, 570 or 571 by copying out existing material, the only compositional effort required would be in devising appropriately Schubertian modulations, and the results could fairly be described as "Schubert completed by x". In the case of the finale of D.840, one would need to compose a substantial chunk of development, and it would surely be less misleading to describe the result as a joint composition.

Since copying out Schubert's work would be tedious, I decided that Beethoven and I should work jointly on a piece to be found in the 'Kafka Miscellany' of sketches dated between 1786 and 1799. My researches have not revealed any evidence that Beethoven himself did any further work on this piece. It would be interesting to learn why Gustav Nottebohm and Willy Hess both went to the trouble of numbering it, and to know how it acquired the title "Study", which it bears in the transcription volume of the miscellany and is presumably someone's (Nottebohm's or Hess'?) reaction to Beethoven's remark "zur übung der faust" (literally "for the practice of the fist"). One may only guess what the composer meant by this, since the work is a set of variations, and does not appear to test any particular aspect of piano technique.

The theme is ridiculous: only someone with a Beethoven-sized sense of humour would have bothered to write it down, let alone dared to write variations on it. What he appears to have done is to have written (in a hurry) enough of the theme and seven (six if he meant to combine the two 6/8 sketches) variations to remind himself how they were to be constructed. He may have started with the intention of alternating major and minor key variations, which helps to generate harmonic interest in a piece which uses only two chords (I and V7), with the possibility of a third if one uses II in the ambiguous bar 10. One cannot tell whether or not Beethoven would have considered widening the harmonic palette of the piece, whether he intended the instruction "d.c." to refer to the first eight bars or only four of them, whether or not he would have written more variations, or whether or not he intended that the variations he sketched should appear in the same order in the finished piece. There is not enough interest in the existing material to sustain a long work.

These, together with the likelihood of Beethoven making changes as he worked on a piece, are the points I have borne in mind in completing the variations he began, writing a few extra variations, selecting the variations to appear in the completed work and their order, and extending his last variation into a coda.




ed Kerman, J: - Ludwig van Beethoven: Autograph Miscellany from c1786 to 1799 (British Museum Additional Manuscript 29801 ff. 39-162, the 'Kafka Sketchbook'. London: Trustees of the British Museum 1970)