COMPOSITIONS compositions

Variations in B flat major, Op. 12 incypit

Genre: Varitations

Key: B-flat major

Opus/WN: Op. 12

Creation date: 1833

Acc. to Paderewski: XIII

Acc. to Turło: 226

Instruments: piano

Composition dedicated to:

Emma Horsford


In mid May 1833, the Opéra Comique in Paris was the venue for the premiere of the opera Ludovic, the last of the numerous operas by Ferdinand Hérold. Chopin, an opera aficionado, attended the premiere. Ludovic failed to gain any great notoriety or a lasting place in music history, apart from one of the ariettas or cavatinas, in rondo form, beginning with the words ‘Je vends des scapulaires’ (‘I sell scapulars’), which was popular for a while. It also interested Chopin, thanks to whom we know a little about Hérold’s last work today. Chopin used that cavatina as the theme for variations. It is simple and charming, melodious and lively, and it swings along in that 6/8 metre which Chopin liked to use.

The Variations in B flat major, Op. 12 received a classic form: introduction, theme and four variations, of which the last passes into a closing coda. The first of the variations presents the theme in fragmented form, in a smooth legato. The second, of the character of a dance-like scherzando, proceeds in the uniform rhythm of a quick mazurka. The third variation, in a slow tempo and a different key (D flat major), imitates the mood of a nocturne. Finally, the fourth is particularly impressive. Of a scherzo character, its rhythm echoes that of a salon krakowiak (though it adheres to a different rhythm).

The pianistic texture of the B flat major Variations, Op. 12 refers – like the Duo Concertant – to the brillant style, as the title informs us: Variations brillantes. These Variations are of Parisian provenance, as is particularly marked in the music of the introduction, where trite, worn phrases mingle with musical refinement. The dazzling coda, befitting a work of this kind, affords the pianist a chance to garner applause.

For all its showiness, Chopin’s piece – like Hérold’s opera – failed to win any great recognition. If it does appear on a concert platform, it is solely in special circumstances, and it is only recorded for ‘complete’ Chopin sets. In reception history, it has met with quite divergent appraisals. In the opinion of Schumann, compared with the composer’s other works it does not even warrant a mention. James Huneker deemed the Op. 12 Variations ‘the weakest of Chopin’s muse’, describing it as ‘Chopin and water, and Gallic eau sucrée at that’. Yet there is also no shortage of critics defending this work, including Szulc, Hoesick, Leichtentritt, Jachimecki and Bełza. Jachimecki found places displaying a singular harmonic structure, anticipating Wagner’s Tristan. Leichtentritt liked what he called the ‘languid dolcissimo’ of the last variation, leading towards impressionism. There is no disagreement that this composition is – as Hoesick put it – ‘thoroughly distingué and salon’.

Chopin dedicated the Variations, as was his wont, to one of his current female pupils. In this case, Miss Emma Horsford.

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


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Variations in B flat major, Op. 12 Op. 12
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