96. Masterpieces in Variation Technique

As soon as music began to be performed before a public audience, as opposed to private aristocratic performances, the idea of the soloist performing extempore variations became very popular. We can see even in the advertisements of recitals by Mozart the reference that at some point he would improvise. And Beethoven, who was extremely facile in this skill, made his first reputation in Vienna by playing variations in private performances. A number of these he wrote down later and they survive as remarkable testaments to his creativity.

Because of the popularity of this practice, it is no surprise that one finds many instrumental works with movements in the variations form, including works for large concert bands. Following are examples which we have performed and which we hold in high regard.

It should be mentioned that among these the Mejo and Kling are rare examples of large band compositions in the Classical Period style. While one can find in my History and Literature of the Wind Band and Wind Ensemble volumes library call-numbers for thousands of original wind octets in the Classical Period style, large band works which are non-military and truly in the Classical style are rare.

Amilcare Ponchielli, Carnevale di Venezia, Variazoni per Banda

Ponchielli (1834–1886) was a famous nineteenth-century Italian opera composer whose opera, La Gioconda with its famous “The Dance of the Hours,” is still in the international repertory. He also served as the conductor of the Cremona Civic Band, for whom he composed more than 70 original works and an equal number of transcriptions.

While the folk melody, the “Carnival of Venice,” was perhaps the most popular tune of the nineteenth century, it would be a mistake to assume that this composition is popular music. It is in fact a great and important piece of music and a worthy representative of Ponchielli as a gifted composer developing a different musical character in each variation. There is an extraordinary variety in the instrumentation from variation to variation, some for full band, some for separate sections of brass or woodwinds and even an extraordinary variation for two players, a duet for solo piccolo and orchestra bells!

I want to emphasize again that this is a serious first-rate composition. In 2007 I heard a performance of this work by Gary Wayne Hill’s great Arizona State University Wind Ensemble before an audience of conductors, an ABA convention concert, and it was immediately followed by a literal storm of applause – something very rare in band concerts.

Finally, technically this is not an easy work and one is amazed that a small Italian town band composed of amateurs, all of whom had other full-time jobs, could have been capable of performing a work with such technical demands

Siegfried Ochs, Variations on a German Folksong, “Kommt ein Vogel geflogen”

Ochs (1858–1929) studied music at the Royal School of Music in Berlin where he was a student of the famous violinist, and friend of Brahms, Joseph Joachim. He founded the Berlin Philharmonic Choir and specialized in the performance of early music.

His Variations on a German Folksong, the children’s song, “Kommt ein Vogel geflogen,” was apparently originally published for band. Later the work was arranged for piano by Busoni and in an arrangement for orchestra it has been widely performed by community orchestras.

The composition first presents the folk melody in a simple setting and it is then followed by twelve variations, each in the style of a familiar composer. Some of these will still be familiar to almost any musician today, such as the parody on Wagner’s Tannhäuser with its famous contrapuntal scales. The quartet for horns in the style of Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream and the Strauss Waltz are particularly precious. The March which concludes the composition is a perfect representative of a late nineteenth-century German military march. Following is the complete catalog of these variations.

Var. 1, in the style of J. S. Bach; a simple melody with learned counterpoint, closing like an Organ Fugue.
Var. 2, in the style of a Josef Haydn string quartet
Var. 3, in the style of Wolfgang Mozart, a clarinet solo
Var. 4, in the style of a Viennese Waltz of Johann Strauss
Var. 5, in the style an operatic finale by Giuseppe Verdi
Var. 6, Parody on the Garden scene of Faust by Charles Gounod
Var. 7, Parody on Lohengrin and Tannhäuser by Richard Wagner
Var. 8, in the style of a Ludwig van Beethoven violin Sonata
Var. 9, a horn quartet in the style of Midsummer Night’s Dream by Felix Mendelssohn
Var. 10, in the style of Johannes Brahms’ Hungarian Dances
Var. 11, in the style of Jacob Meyerbeer and the “Blessing of the Dagger”s from his Hugenots.
Var. 12, Finale, in the style of a German Military March

Wilhelm Mejo, Variations on “Gaudeamus igitur”

The Mejo Variations on “Gaudeamus igitur” really impressed me … it is a work I have to play.

Leon Bly, Sept. 29, 1991
Stuttgart, Germany
Stuttgart School of Music

This composition was published by Breitkopf und Härtel in 1844 as Variations sur un Thème favori für Harmoniemusik. Mejo was a composer and teacher in Chemnitz, Germany, where in 1833 he founded the Robert Schumann Philharmonic. One of the valuable aspects of this composition is that it is very close to the Classical Style, something very rare in original large-band works. It also has an unusual exposure of the horns.

The success of this composition resulted in another similar one, Variations sur un Thème favori für Harmoniemusik in F Major, Op. 5, also published by Breitkopf and Härtel, in 1845. The only surviving copy of this score is found in the Thüringisches Staatsarchiv in Rudolstadt (M. 53).

“Gaudeamus igitur,” (“Let us be merry!”) is a very old traditional university song in Germany and still in use in schools there today. Everyone will recognize this melody because of its use, as one of four university songs, in the Academic Festival Overture, op. 80, by Johannes Brahms. I was once told a funny story on this subject by Leonard Bernstein. When he had just graduated from Harvard as a music major he found himself with no immediate job opportunities and so he decided to go to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia to study conducting with Fritz Reiner. Reiner, an old-world Hungarian maestro made the chief admission requirement the ability to read a full orchestral score at sight on the piano. Accordingly, he asked Bernstein to sit at the piano, where on the music stand a large score was already standing open.

Bernstein, although a fine pianist, had no experience in reading a score at the piano, with all the various transpositions, etc. Furthermore, he had no idea what this score was (it was the Brahms Academic Festival Overture), until he noticed the melody of “Gaudeamus igitur,” a song which he, as a young student, had sung regularly at the Boston Latin School. So Bernstein simply began playing that song in the version he remembered from his youth and Reiner, who was paying little attention and had gone to his desk to sign some papers, leaped up and cried “Bravo! You can be a student!”

The present band composition was composed for and dedicated to “Mr. Guillaume Barth.” I believe this was Frederick August Wilhelm Barth, the conductor of the civic band in Leipzig. It was when, in this capacity, that in 1821 the young Wilhelm Wieprecht turned up with a letter of recommendation from the clarinetist, Hermstedt, Barth was unable to offer anything to Wieprecht in Leipzig, but gave him a letter of recommendation for the court Kapellmeister, Zillmann, in Dresden, where he was given a position.

Barth had composed at least two important band works himself, one being a Cantata, “Sey gesgnet stille Morgensone,” op. 54, in 1839, for Bass solo, three-part mixed chorus and wind orchestra. This score survives but is in private hands. The other important composition of his for band was his Grand Sinfonie pour instruments à vent, op. 10, in three movements, for flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, trumpets, horns, serpent and timpani. This score was mentioned several times in early German literature, but I believe the surviving copy, which had been published by André in Offenbach, was lost during World War II in the bombing of the state library in Darmstadt.

Barth was a member of a family of Danish musicians working in Germany. His father was probably Christian Frederik Barth (1787–1861) who was an oboist in the Royal Chapel in Dresden from 1802 to 1841. The father had arranged a number of operas for Harmoniemusik and a set of Pièces d’Harmonie which had been published by Hofmeister in Leipzig and survives in one copy in Prague (CS-Pnm, XXI.C.178).

The present work, the Wilhelm Mejo, Variations on “Gaudeamus igitur” originally scored for 3 clarinets, 1 small clarinet and 1 small flute in E♭, 2 bassoons, 3 horns, 3 trombones and serpent, is quite rare as a mid-nineteenth century composition in the older Classical Period style. The conductor will recall that after Beethoven there was a distinct divide between those who wanted to continue the older style and those who were attracted to the new Romantic style. These two philosophies continued side by side and for this reason one sometimes hears Schumann called the “Classic Romanticist” and Mendelssohn the “Romantic Classicist.” In any case, for teaching purposes, this is a rare work in the band repertoire in the true earlier Classical Style.

There is one place in this composition that deserves attention. There is in this composition an excellent example of a device much talked about in the early nineteenth century, the so-called “Rossini crescendo,” or sometimes “Rossini Rocket.” This was a very long written out crescendo for the purpose of drawing the attention of the audience to what might come next. It was first used by Gioacchino Rossini in his opera, La Pietra del Paragone in 1812. In the present score it is a crescendo covering 28 measures, beginning in measure 359 with a marking of pp and concluding in measure 387 with a marking of ff. During the course of these bars the composer writes “cresc. poco a poco” and in measure 371 a mf. It has been my experience in these cases not to have the performers worry about specific levels along the way, but rather to explain the musical idea and let the players do this by ear. It makes the result more alive and present tense as opposed to following something on paper.

Henri Kling, Hommage à Haydn, Fantaise avec Variations

These variations, although written in 1870, because of the Haydn subject (The well-known “Surprise” Symphony), this work is also virtually in the Classical style. This is an easy and attractive addition to the repertoire.

Kling (1842–1918) was born in Paris, the son of a German father and a French mother. He is still well-known to modern horn students for his etudes. He was a professor at the Geneva Conservatory from 1865 to 1918.

Finally, I want to use this essay as an opportunity to mention an extraordinary programmatic composition for band.

Paul Maschek, The Battle of Leipzig

The popular practice of sets of variations also inspired composers to create similar works of a programmatic nature. Instead of short forms of varied material, the programmatic version consisted of short forms in which a story could be told in progressive segments. No doubt one of the most extraordinary examples of this practice is a Danish work of the early nineteenth century by Andreas Hallager which musically traces the entire life of Napoleon in a manuscript score consisting of 900 pages!

We should like to present for the reader as an illustration of this form, one of a great many similar compositions in the libraries of Europe, which exists, a work by Paul Maschek, of Vienna, The Battle of Leipzig, which we regard very highly for its melodic quality.

Paul Maschek, born September 14, 1761, in Zwikowetz and died November 22, 1826 in Vienna. He worked for Counts Nádasdy and Nicaky in Hungary before moving to Vienna in 1792, where he worked for both the Court Theater and for the majesties themselves. By 1795 his musical talent was well-known and his compositions admired1 and he had become a popular piano teacher.

His better-known brother Vincenz, was born in Bohemia on April 5, 1755 and died in Prague on November 15, 1831. In 1796 he moved from Berlin to Prague to become music master at St. Nicolas Church. Among his wind ensemble compositions is a Concerto for four-hand Piano and Harmoniemusik (Leipzig, 1802). It is not known which brother composed a similar work for 3 harpsichords, 2 bassoons and 2 horns.2 Both brothers composed much music for piano and both were virtuosi on the Viennese Glass Harmonica.

Among the compositions of Paul Maschek were 2 operas, Waldraf der Wanderer and Der Riesenkampf, performed in 1793 and 1799 in Vienna,3 2 ballets, 6 symphonies for orchestra and chamber music mostly for flute. His experience in writing for wind instruments included 6 Parthien for Harmoniemusik,4 his arrangement in 10 movements of Richard Löwenherz’s ballet Die Atheniensische Tänzerin (1802) for Harmoniemusik and, of course, his epic band composition, The Battle of Leipzig. Finally, we should mention a piano work apparently drawn from The Battle of Leipzig, a Marche de la bataille de Leipsick.

The Battle of Leipzig of October 1813, was one of the most important historical events of the nineteenth century, as it finally brought to an end the reign of Napoleon. There had been general fear that Napoleon might take over all of Europe and so his defeat in this battle brought a great sense of relief which was expressed in many compositions with the name, “The Battle of Leipzig,” among which was this large trilogy of 30 compositions for band by Paul Maschek of 1813. In 1815 another Battle of Leipzig by the regimental band director, Friedrich Starke, was performed in the court Redoutensaal hall in Vienna. A nineteenth-century account says this work was performed by 5 bands, with 30 trumpets, 30 drums and cannons. The best-known Battle of Leipzig for band was composed for three bands for the 50th anniversary of the famous battle by Wilhelm Wieprecht.

Confusing the history of this work by Paul Maschek, and the reason it is not better known is an account written by the famous 19th century Viennese critic, Edward Hanslick (1825–1904) which makes reference to a performance of a Cantata, The Battle of Leipzig, performed in the Court theater in Vienna in December 1813 in a Christmas concert at the Gesellschaft der Musikfruende.5 According to Carl Maria von Weber, who himself composed a Battle and Victory Cantata, op. 44, this performance was “a monstrosity of bad declamation, noise and triviality.”

This Cantata had its text published in 1813 by Georg Ueberreuter, a court-approved book printer in Vienna. The cover of this publication, while making the author of the text anonymous, states that the text was set to music by Paul Maschek and that the concert was a benefit for widows and orphans of this battle. This publication of 1813 identifies Paul Maschek at this time as “Societás Secretár,” which must refer to the famous Gesellschaft der Musikfruende. If so it would mean that Maschek was a well-known person in Viennese musical circles.

The confusion that bothered me when I first began studying the Maschek band composition, The Battle of Leipzig, was because of the identical title of a Cantata and a very large band composition, apparently by the same composer. Any reference to this title associated with Maschek was always relative to the Cantata, whereas the band composition seemed to be unknown to music history. But there must be two separate compositions by Maschek called The Battle of Leipzig for since the band trilogy has extensive programmatic titles for each composition, one can immediately see that the text of the Cantata has no similarity whatsoever to the programmatic titles of the band composition. Furthermore, Weber who was in the hall for the performance of the Cantata criticizes it for the bad declamation in the performance, whereas there is no declamation associated with the band work.

The first interesting thing one sees on Maschek’s autograph title page for this Battle of Leipzig is his careful designation, “Harmonie with Türkish Music.” The latter term implies the addition of modern percussion instruments, instruments that were associated with military bands but not with the aristocratic Harmoniemusik. But also things were changing rapidly after the appearance of the larger bands associated with the French Revolution. It is clear that Maschek intended to prepare two separate versions of his great trilogy, one for band and one for Harmoniemusik, but not all of the latter version survives.

From the time of Mozart there were in Vienna manuscript stores where a customer could select from among autograph scores one he wished to have and the store would make him a manuscript copy. The store would price the new copy by a certain fee for each page. In the case of his new Battle of Leipzig, Maschek writes on the cover in his own hand his price for copies he would make himself and gives the potential customer his address, should he wish to purchase a copy, as the second floor “in Miene-on-the Minde in Prince Stabenberg’ hen-house.”

The original band composition by Paul Maschek known as The Battle of Leipzig consists of a trilogy of three suites, with each suite having its own title over a group of independent compositions. Each composition within each part is given its own individual title which we provide and which taken together constitute a running account of the historical events of the famous battle and its aftermath, the subsequent chasing of the French troops back to Paris and the ultimate return of the Austrian troops to Vienna. In addition to the basic instrumentation of 14 winds, there seems to have been the intention to make the cycle available in a larger band version, but only a few movements of such a version exist.

Following the three suites with their original titles, we include some interesting programmatic details that will help give the reader a more complete perspective of this music.

Part One, “The Battle of Leipzig” (Die Schlacht bei Leipzig)

MS (autograph) in A:Wn (Sm. 11384) for 3232-121, serpent contrabassoon and percussion.

MS (copy) Nrs. Whitwell 1057, Whitwell 0058 and Whitwell 0422 in the Whitwell Archiv, Bundesakademie für Musik, Trossingen, Germany.

  1. The Imperial Royal Austrian and Imperial Russian Armies, under the command of
    His Grace, Lord Fieldmarshal Karl, Prince of Schwarzenberg, march out to meet the enemy.
  2. The approach of the French troops, marching in double-time is heard.
  3. The Russians approach on all sides!
  4. The cannons call to battle
  5. The battle … the French are defeated … the victory march is heard.
  6. The victorious armies receive their praise.
  7. The Monarchs give thanks to God.
  8. General rejoicing because of the victory.

Part Two, “The Occupation of Paris”

(Heil dir Europa!!! oder die Besitznahme von Paris durch die Hohen Verbundeten Siegreichen Trummen den 30 April 1814)

MS (autograph) in A:Wn (Sm. 11387) for 3232-121, serpent contrabassoon and percussion.

MS (copy) Nrs Whitwell 0089 and Whitwell 1054 in the Whitwell Archiv, Bundesakademie für Musik, Trossingen, Germany.

MS for 222-02, contrabassoon. Nrs Whitwell 1044 in the Whitwell Archiv, Bundesakademie für Musik, Trossingen, Germany.

  1. After the Battle of Champenoise, the victorious army pursues the enemy with resounding noise.
  2. The Battle of Paris …
  3. The great Allies appear before Paris under the leadership of His Royal Highness, the Crown Prince of Württemberg.
  4. Jubilation of the Allied troops at the sight of a city that believed itself invincible.
  5. Napoleon’s sorrowful retreat to Fontainebleau … More Allied troops are still arriving.
  6. Officials of Paris arrive at the headquarters of the Allies to plead for surrender …
  7. The entry march of their Majesties, the Czar of Russia, Crown Prince of Württemberg and Fieldmarshal Prince of Schwarzenberg with their respective troops into Paris.
  8. The Hunter’s Batalione enters Paris; 8bis. The Duke of Venice, sent by Napoleon, appears in Paris with a plea for Partition. No one listens to him.
  9. General rejoicing of the French, having been freed from a terrible ruler.
  10. The Allied troops spread out during the night and are well taken care of.
  11. Everywhere the Allies are received by the inhabitants with respect and cordiality.
  12. Solemn thanks of the freed population to the Allied Monarchs.

Part Three, “Austria’s Triumph”

(Österreichs Triumph or the Return of His Majesty Franz I to Vienna on June 16, 1814)”

MS (autograph) in A:Wn (Sm. 11385) for 3232-121, serpent contrabassoon and percussion.

MS (copy) Nrs. Whitwell 1055, Whitwell 0092 in the Whitwell Archiv, Bundesakademie für Musik, Trossingen, Germany.

MS in A:Wn (Sm. 11386) for 222-02, including some additional movements.

  1. The longing of the subjects for their adored monarch.
  2. The travels of his Majesty through the lands of his inheritance to the rejoicing of the people.
  3. The military, the home guard, ride out to meet His Majesty.
  4. The Magistrate welcomes His Majesty.
  5. Even the youth honor him!
  6. Procession of his Majesty through the triumphal arch toward St. Stefan’s Cathedral.
  7. The clergy receives His Majesty.
  8. Prayer with cannons roaring.
  9. General rejoicing.

Performance Notes

I. “The Battle of Leipzig”

I. The increasing dynamic levels at the beginning of the first of these three marches which document the arrival of the allies, are intended to suggest to the listener the sound of a band in the distance and growing louder as it becomes closer. This is not a unique idea (found also in Beethoven’s Piano Variations on God Save the King) but reminds us that music is all about the listener. The first march is a typical Austrian Infantry march of the time, the slow tempo of which was determined by the requirement of pulling a small cannon as they marched.

II. During the Napoleonic Era enemy troops were sometimes startled by the impression of the French troops approaching twice as fast. This French march suggests it may have had something to do with meter, for while the beat remains the same, to the listener hearing three eighth-notes to the beat instead of the usual two does give the illusion of faster music.

III. In the March section the first three dotted eighth-notes in the melody should be played quite pesante to reflect the heavy steps in a minor key of the Russian soldiers. The light, French sounding Trio, however, reminds us that St. Petersburg was closely related to the rest of the European aristocracy.

IV-V. These connected movements represent the actual battle and victory of the allies. As with most nineteenth-century battle representations the emphasis is on the confusion, the running feet and fear, not in the imitation of guns.

VI. An Harmoniemusik ensemble within the larger band, representing the highly virtuosi of the Vienna School of Harmoniemusik.

VII. Here we have another Harmoniemusik ensemble from within the band, most characteristic since this movement represents the monarchs.

VIII. The final note in the E♭ clarinet part was an octave higher in the original parts. In general, all the appoggiaturas in the original manuscript were in the old Baroque tradition; none were grace notes.

II. “The Occupation of Paris”

I. It is important to have a slower, pesante character to the second trio, to reflect the heavy boots of the Russians. The Grand Pause in the final bar should be only long enough, perhaps less than a normal measure, to give the listener an alert that something is about to happen. It is not unlike the long Grand Pauses one finds, for example, in cadences of Handel.

II. Although this battle music is notated in common time everything about it indicates alla-breve. The point is to capture the running confusion of battle.

III. The staccato dots in my copy are mine, in order to achieve the sparkle this Scherzando seems to call for.

IV. The French troops at this time had a reputation for marching twice as fast as the allied troops creating a certain amount of fear from the impression they were running and not marching. Actually their marches were often in the meter of 6/8 which, because there were now three eighth-notes to the beat instead of two, gave the impression of being faster. So when we have the allied troops approaching Paris and we hear this 6/8 march it can be taken as being played by the French, or being played by the allies in honor of the French or perhaps as an insult to the French.

V. This movement provides a nice illustration of how important it is to adjust note durations to the tempo. In the first part the quarter-notes need to be very long, with almost a tenuto feeling. In the faster second part. however, the quarter-notes need to be played as if marked staccato. By the way, for me, the first tempo needs to be slower than what today we might think of as moderato and the second tempo, also not so fast as vivace.

VIII bis. The original sets of autograph parts for the “Occupation of Paris” exist in both a full band version and in a Harmoniemusik version. The Harmoniemusik version includes a movement, VIII bis, which does not appear in the band version. We have included it in our copy as it does play a role in the historical description of the events included in the arrival of the allied troops in Paris. This movement, being for Harmoniemusik, should be performed with only one player on a part.

We take the complicated solo oboe part to represent the negotiator, the Duke of Venice, and the occasional slightly dissonant chords to be the answers, “No!”

X. In case there should be any doubt what the composer meant by the title of this movement, “The Allied Troops spread out during the night and are well taken care of!” the meaning, not to mention the identity of the profession of the Parisian citizens referred to, is made clear when the listener hears this movement begin with a direct quotation, with a change of meter, of the beginning of the well-known Mozart Horn Concerto, K. 412. For the enlightenment of the reader we must point out that the English word, “Horny” is also used with the same spelling and with the same meaning in Spanish, German, French and Corneo in Italian.

III. Austria’s Triumph

Among the nine movements of Part III of the trilogy, six movements are for Harmoniemusik and three for full band. Perfectly reflecting the practice of the day, if the title includes the word “Emperor” then the instrumentation is for Harmoniemusik and if the title includes the word “public” or “troops” then the composition is for full band.

A very noticeable characteristic of Part III is the complete absence of the horn parts. Since the title of Part III reflects the return of the troops to their home in Vienna, perhaps the missing horns are for the purpose of reminding the listener that not all soldiers returned from the battle. On the other hand, since the tenth movement of Part II suggests the soldiers visiting the prostitutes of Paris, symbolized by the beginning quotation from Mozart’s first horn concerto, hence “horny,” perhaps the more subtle intent of the composer was to suggest the horn players never made it back to join the troops.

In the sixth movement of Part III, a march, the conductor may be startled to find an entire measure for an unaccompanied triangle roll in the middle of the march. One first sees this in the band music of the French Revolution when Gossec first used a measure consisting of only a gong reverberating unaccompanied to create a sense of terror. This became something of an idiom in following band scores. Aside from the use of the gong, which one also finds in the great Symphony for Band by Anton Reicha, of the same period, in the second movement of the Reicha, a similar measure consisting of a soft unaccompanied roll on a small drum. One might suppose that the unaccompanied triangle roll in the present work of 1813–1814 might have some association with this interesting tradition.

All these works are available through the amazing catalog by Maxime’s Music at concertbandmusicstore.com.

  1. Bohumir Jan Dlavac, General Historical Lexicon for Bohemia (1815), II ↩︎
  2. see John Weeks Moore, Complete Encyclopaedia of Music of 1880. ↩︎
  3. Dr. Franz Metz, in Edition Musik Sudost (1992) ↩︎
  4. John D. Champlin, Cyclopedia of Music and Musicians (1899) ↩︎
  5. The Musical World, January 22, 1876, reprinted in Dwight’s Journal of Music (Boston), February 19, 1876. Maschek’s original music for this Cantata has been forever lost. The text, perhaps as a tribute to the anonymous poet, was published. ↩︎