Classical Music | Piano Music

Robert Schumann

Variations on the name “Abegg,” Op. 1  Play

Milica Jelača Jovanović Piano

Recorded on 12/05/2006, uploaded on 01/26/2009

Musician's or Publisher's Notes

Although the Abegg Variations in F Major represent Schumann's first published work, it was not his first composition for piano, nor his first set of variations.  The notes A-B (symbol for B-flat in German)-E-G-G constitute the theme of the set, which essentially is a musical translation of the name, Meta Abegg.  Although the idea of deriving a theme from a name was common for Schumann, it was quite rare for his time.  Schumann uses the five-note theme through three variations, a Cantabile section in A-flat Major, and the finale, each time varying the rhythm, texture, and character in this virtuosic and brilliant piece.     Milica Jelača Jovanović

Variations on the Name "Abegg"       Robert Schumann

Though published as his opus 1, the Variations on the Name "Abegg" show Robert Schumann already in possession of a well-developed, albeit still youthful, compositional skill. Composed in 1829-30 when Schumann was only nineteen, the imitative period every composer passes through is still quite apparent and the styles of his predecessors, Carl Maria von Weber and Johann Nepomuk Hummel, come out stronger than Schumann's distinctive voice.

Two explanations are given for the origin of the name "Abegg." The first is a fictitious friend Schumann had created named Meta Abegg. "Abegg" is easily translated into musical pitches and "Meta" is thought to be an anagram of the Latin word "tema," or in English, "theme." The second explanation is the Countess Pauline von Abegg. Supposedly when Schumann was twenty years old, he met the Countess and dedicated the piece to her which is evident in the edition of Schumann's piano works edited by his wife Clara. Regardless of its origin, the name was undoubtedly selected for its ability to be represented entirely by musical pitches.

The theme, of rather unassumingly quality, is presented simply in octaves in the right hand accompanied by simple chords in the left. As seemingly inappropriate such a theme would be for a genius (even in such an early stage) of Schumann's stature, it is exactly the theme's overt simplicity that makes it a perfect candidate for variation treatment. Schumann's imagination quickly comes to life in the first variation, adorning the theme with lavish embellishments. The second variation transforms the theme into a steadily moving chromatic line with a gently syncopated accompaniment. The next variation returns to a lively character with the theme embellished by consistent triplet sixteenths. A lyrical cantabile in the tonic minor follows the third variation and, though not marked so by the composer, is essentially another variation of the theme. Closing on a dominant seventh chord in F major, the cantabile gives way to fantasia-like Finale (as indicated by Schumann himself). Marked vivace and set in a lilting compound meter, the extended Finale brings the variations to an exciting close. Joseph DuBose