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The Variations in E major on the song ‘Der Schweitzerbub’ were written at the request of the general’s wife Katarzyna Sowińska, née Schröder, who was also their dedicatee. They are linked with an anecdote circulated by Oskar Kolberg. Apparently, Mrs Sowińska had been captivated by this popular German song about a yodelling lad from Switzerland in a rendition by a singer visiting Warsaw.

The theme is easy and straightforward, and if it does not sound banal that is perhaps because Chopin has it played semplice and senza ornamenti (simply, without embellishment). Indeed, that was the principle behind the design of the Classical set of variations. The simplicity of the theme was contrasted with the ornamentation of what followed, and Chopin kept strictly to the pattern. Each of the four successive variations lasts twelve bars, like the theme, and has the same harmonic structure. And in each, an echo of the theme can be discerned through the different character and expression. For example, the first variation was given a salon character: it is to be played with elegance (Chopin wrote the word elegantamente above the first notes). In the fourth variation, preceding the finale, Chopin has a sentimental note sound. In accordance with the Classical norm, this variation was the minore, in a minor key.

The fashion of that transitional period bade Chopin alter the Classical model slightly (in the area of expression and style). For instance, he preceded the appearance of the theme with a showy, but rather empty, introduction filled with a few rapid passages played brillante, leggierissimo and delicato. He concluded the work with an ethereal, sparkling, but rather shallow waltz. The result was a light, bright work, devoid of all shading, full of grace, written with a delicate touch – a splendid adornment of the Warsaw salons of those times.

Together with the Variations, Op. 2 and the Sonata in C minor, Op. 4, Chopin intended to have the ‘Schweitzerbub’ Variations published by Haslinger of Vienna. The publisher dithered, and when he finally made up his mind it was 1841, and Chopin was already a whole epoch away from that youthful stab at producing a work which conformed to the norm and the fashion; he did not consent to the work’s publication. Thus the Variations were only published among the posthumous works.

Author: Mieczysław Tomaszewski
[Cykl audycji "Fryderyka Chopina Dzieła Wszystkie"]
Polish Radio, program II


 
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