Reviewing lesser-known pieces

Thoughts on a 6-hand set of variations for piano by Czerny

I’ve enjoyed listening to some of Carl Czerny’s serious works for a good while now, and while this piece isn’t one of his strictly ‘serious’ pieces, it’s a great load of fun with plenty of creativity.

Variations Brilliantes sur un Theme de Bellini, Op. 297

This piece is a set of variations for 6-hands at the piano, very much in the bel canto style, as the theme is from Bellini, the Italian who wrote almost entirely in this style for voice.

There is a short intro in the dominant before the theme is introduced, as a beautiful singing melody with simple accompaniment.

1st variation: The melody is played lower down the keyboard, while above Czerny writes flashy runs decorating the melody. Immediately on the first variation Czerny writes energetically with showing-off displays, very effectively.

2nd variation: Here the theme is embellished and altered with semiquavers running around the top of the keyboard, while a light accompaniment bounces along in the bass.

3rd variation: This variation has a slight lilting feel as a result of the triplet ‘oompah-pah’ accompaniment, and above in the high register is a joyful, dotted variation on the theme, sprinkled with trills.

4th variation: This is a solemn, slower variation in the minor, like a funeral march with the parts weaving polyphonically around throughout the texture of light repeating chords.

Coda: The coda starts with a very energetic variation in the major of large chords bouncing around, higher up on the keyboard, with strong downbeat chords in the bass. There are also broken octave figures in the bass later on. Overall I find this quite a ‘funky’ one. Just before a normal ending, it morphs into a very bel canto variation of the theme with gentle accompaniment. From here to the end the structure is mainly of short, new variation ideas with linking material in between; there is a 3-time, almost Scottish gentle dance variation, while after some running around up high on the keyboard as the linking passage, we see a very short idea but also one more slightly longer variation except. The end is basically littered (in a good way of course) with little variation fragments.

The last two minutes or so is mainly typical, brilliant Czerny-style passages displaying a strong coda-like energy, coming to a roaring finish with massive chords. The audience certainly liked it.

Czerny wrote many, many sets of variations, yet no interest is lost here; I find this to be very creative, energetic and effective in how he writes these variations. It’s also a lot of fun.

If you’re interested in listening to more of Czerny’s music, here is an excellent set of 3CDs* that I own, and have enjoyed for a long time now. True, you can get this music for free on Youtube or Spotify, but if you favour the physicality of CDs then go for this. Note – at the moment it doesn’t appear to have the image of the front of the CD, so here it is:

Carl Czerny: A Rediscovered Genius | WHSmith

*This is an affiliate link, meaning I will earn a small commission if you purchase through it.

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