“Hats Off Gentlemen - A Genius!”

Updated: Mar 29

Happy March! As we slowly transition out of the cold, breezy conditions of winter to the delights of spring, we hope you enjoy a take on one of Chopin's many masterpieces by Humphrey Xu, our Application Manager!

Chopin - a great romantic composer and arguably the most influential of his time. Some of his great works include the four Ballades, sets of twenty-four Preludes and Etudes, and two piano concerti. However, one work of Chopin’s that has remained relatively obscure is his Variations on “La Ci Darem La Mano” from Mozart’s Don Giovanni, opus 2. As with most variations, it takes a simple theme and overlays ornaments and greater musical depth onto it.


Variations op. 2 starts out inconspicuously with a slow introduction at a tempo of Largo. The theme enters rather unexpectedly, in a passage played “con forza” and prestissimo. However, it remains cheerful, staying true to the character of Mozart.

The first variation is a “style brilliant” miniature, with a staccato-legato texture and a shining bright melody. The second variation is labeled as veloce, and skips along with rapid repeated notes being utilized to give a feeling of perpetuity. The third presents a somewhat ghostly echo of the theme, and the right hand’s leisurely melody must be heard amid the incessant motion of the left hand. The fourth variation is played con bravura, a fitting label for the most difficult of the variations. It represents Etude op. 25 no. 4 due to its rapid jumps, and the melody line must be clearly present even when the dynamic marking is soft, requiring an incredibly delicate touch. The fifth and final variation is an adagio, slow and thoughtful where fragments of the theme can be found.

The adagio is followed with an “Alla Polacca”; in other words, in the style of a polonaise. It is full of brilliance and bravura, and certainly among the most difficult of Chopin’s works. Throughout its premiere, the variations reportedly drew gasps from the audience, including Robert Schumann. After the performance, Schumann famously declared, “Hats off gentlemen - a genius!” Thanks to these variations and Schumann’s glowing review of the performance, Chopin’s fame quickly spread across Europe and he earned himself a place in history.


Author: Humphrey Xu

Editor: Kevin Zhang


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