Why did women reject Beethoven?

Book about Beethoven's Diabelli VariationsA look into the open

"Beethoven was the only one who had turned it down; the others perhaps no longer admired this exuberant waltz than he did, but they all bowed to the suggestion; so he no longer had to just measure himself against the theme itself, but against its potential for development."

In 1821 the publisher and composer Anton Diabelli asked around 50 Viennese composers to each write a variation on one of his own waltzes. Everyone agreed. Only Beethoven shot across and refused. Instead, he composed one of the greatest works in music history - the 33 Variations op.120.

A huge game with a high demand for art

"This genre is traditionally a kind of homage. Because you love a melody, you say it several times in all possible ways [...] Light as it may be, for Beethoven this waltz has an essential modernity."

From Diabelli's waltz, Beethoven developed a huge game (with high artistic standards). At least that is how the French writer Michel Butor explains it in his book on Beethoven's Diabelli Variations.

"In order to give this game its full meaning, it has to accept these rules, that is, be able to show that each of its variations may be different with the proposed theme, but just as closely related to those of any other composer."

Butor keeps coming back to the character of the game, for example when he wonders why Beethoven composed 33 variations:

"The need for the number 33 becomes apparent as soon as we recall the considerations about the breadth of variation. The waltz comprises 32 written out cells, each stretching over two measures; each wing in fact comprises 15 full and 2 incomplete measures, which is 34 Subjects or rooms result in: the 33 variations plus the theme. "

Pictorial numbers game

In this graphic numbers game you can tell where Butor is directing your gaze: into the open! No wonder, as the French are considered to be one of the most important representatives of the "Nouveau Roman", the "new novel" - a tendency that developed in French literature in the mid-1950s - with the aim of breaking up the established form of the novel: no classic heroes, no classic plot, no classic narrative form.

Michel Butor was born in Lille in 1926 and died in 2016 in a small town not far from Geneva. He wrote the original text about Beethoven in 1970 on the occasion of a concert in Liège. But until 1999 more and more additions on the subject of "Diabelli Variations" followed.

The German translation by Jürg Stenzl, published for the first time, dates back to the late 1970s. Stenzl has revised his text several times, most recently in 2019. In an afterword he explains that he had spoken to Butor several times about the difficulties of an adequate adaptation into German - this is also related (among other things) to the propensity for play, namely Butor's creative puns . This book reads accordingly in terms of language and images:

5) Allegro vivace: spraying foam

Charms of a shy Zyperin:

6) Allegro ma non troppo serioso: introduction to the love promenade

7) Un poco più allegro: buds in the park avenues

8) Poco vivace: the explanation by the fountain that flows again in its pleasure wood

Just as Beethoven deals with Diabelli's waltz, so does Butor with Beethoven's op. 120: he explains and confuses at the same time, he unmasked and riddles, he revolves around his topic in various facets. As in Butor's novel "L'emploi du temps", where the hero tries to find his way through the labyrinth of a modern city, the author lets the reader meander almost detached through the cosmos of variations in his Beethoven book.

"Variation 13 [...] is [...] the most military of all and that's why I call it Mars; this is the beating of the drum. [...] the pauses of four sighs that separate the two groups of notes in the first two phrases out of these, despite the lively pace, a single, slow parade march beat, which is abruptly accelerated in the following two. "

Even the form of the book is puzzling: poetry-like passages alternate with prose chapters. Whereby: Chapter is not a really appropriate name. Michel Butor names some sections "Intervention" and numbers them. Then again follow (unnumbered) sections with the title "Gloss". Butor gives the individual variations pet names such as "Soft Waltz" or "Dwarf March" or the "Little March": "Here is the march [...]" allegro pesante e risoluto ", its rural character, with all the dreamy and humorous this can contain is immediately surprising after the urbanity that has become so airy during the previous variations and which I therefore propose to call earth. "

Bold ideas, unpredictable and also a little intangible

Michel Butor always listens carefully to Beethoven's music and derives a wide variety of associations from it - excursions within the history of music not excluded:

"The radiation fantasy can be seen as an explicit reference to the Goldberg Variations, albeit an almost secret one, since the audience did not know it, so to speak."

The book "Dialogue with 33 variations by Ludwig van Beethoven on a waltz by Diabelli" reads like a kaleidoscope of splinters of thought, points of contact, flashbacks, images. Much is nested with one another on around 160 pages (sometimes indirect, sometimes conspicuous), so that Michel Butor's Beethoven explanations wrap around the individual variations like a kind of metatext. In terms of the character of the whole, Butor's observations are less reminiscent of the Diabelli Variations than of Beethoven's Bagatelles: bold ideas, unpredictable and also a little intangible.

Butor, Michel: Dialogue with 33 variations by Ludwig van Beethoven on a waltz by Diabelli
Translated from the French by Jürg Stenzl
Königshausen and Neumann Verlag ISBN 978-3-8260-7157-7, 162 pages, € 24.80