Mozart - "ah! vous dirai - je, mamman" - Theme and variations

Discuss the piano literature and how to teach and learn it

Postby Stretto » Sat Jan 06, 2007 9:39 am

Has anyone ever learned or taught this piece? (The famous tune "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" came from this piece - does anyone know the history behind that?). Has anyone ever performed it? Has anyone ever heard it performed? I learned the "Theme and 3 Variations" from Denes Agay's "More Easy Classics to Moderns", Vol. 27 (the book says, "each piece is in its original form, neither simplified nor rearranged" - I guess that doesn't count shortening the piece?) only to listen to a recording and it refreshed my memory that there are actually 12 variations! :O

I've learned what I'm assuming are the first 3 variations pretty well, and am considering getting the score for the entire piece. What does everyone think - should I go ahead and learn all 12 variations while I'm at it? Can anyone recommend an edition? I'd like to get the piece to the point that I could perform it. Perhaps the shortened version depending on the audience, for example, students. But I'd like to have the entire piece learned.

Also, on any theme and variations, should all the variations be played at the same tempo? At what speed would be recommended to play this particular piece?

Should there be huge dynamic variation with a lot of crescendos and decrescendos within each variation or not?

Does anyone know how to pronounce the title? Also, does anyone know what the title means? (oops, for some reason, I must have not capitalized the title on the post - sorry about that).

Thanks for any tips or advice.




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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Sat Jan 06, 2007 10:58 am

Stretto,

[ah voo deer-ay zhay ma-man] This French folk song is a young girl telling her mother about being seduced by a man: "Ah! I must tell you, Mother, of what has caused my torment....." It's also famous as "Twinkle, twinkle", the Alphabet Song, and a German Christmas carol called "Morgan kommt der Weihnachtsmann" (Tomorrow comes Santa Claus). There are twelve variations in Mozart's setting, and the best edition is G. Henle.

As for performance, Mozart gives a lot of indications in the score for variety (variations which preserve the form and harmonic outline can get monotonous), and he does a lot with different rhythmic patterns, minor key, voicings, and so on. Big 19th crescendos and diminuendos wouldn't be appropriate; play it lightheartedly, as Mozart intended.

Hope this helps.

Bill L.
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Postby Stretto » Wed Jan 10, 2007 1:47 pm

Thanks for the information. I edited my post to say 12 variations as I originally wrote 10. I had 10 on my mind as someone told me it's about 10 pages long and so was accidentally thinking of the number 10 rather than the 12.

Has anyone played this piece and/or performed it? What does everyone think - too monotonous of a piece for an audience? If I ever did perform the piece, it would probably just be for students or other music teachers.

I guess I was attracted to the piece when I first heard it as I like folk tunes or familiar melodies and also theme and variations. I thought it was pretty neat how the same little simple tune could be varied so many ways. It's probably a good example at least to teach students about pieces written as a theme and variations. I like to send a cd with the piece on it home with students to listen to and not tell them anything about and just say, "listen to this and see what you think" - sort of give them a suprise reaction when they hear it.

What do others of you think of pieces in general that are written in the form of a theme and variations? Do you think of them as monotonous or interesting?




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Postby 108-1121887355 » Wed Jan 10, 2007 7:02 pm

I enjoy the variations but usually pick out a few I enjoy rather than play or assign all twelve. Sometimes I let the student chose. In fact I just gave the Mozart to a student this week. As Mozart and Schubert have birthdays this month, I am picking out some pieces by both composers. Last year she played variations on "Aloulette". I have a folder with variations and I encourage students to make up their own, beginning with easy folk songs they have learned. Usually begin with a rhythm change by trying a variety of bases and from there changes to the melody. The complaint I receive, from the student, sometimes, is that it is hard to hear the melody in some of the variations.
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Thu Jan 11, 2007 9:10 pm

Stretto, to answer your question, yes, I've played it and also given it to students. It is a little long, and some editions are published with only four or five of the variations.

There are so many ways to write variations, and so many different treatments in the various musical periods, that it's pretty hard to make general judgements about how audiences react to them. For instance, the Pachelbel Canon is not really a canon but a set of Variations on a Ground (repeating bass line). That kind of Baroque form was called "continuous variations", because there are no pauses between them, as in the Mozart.

Have you ever done John Thompson's "Variations on Three Blind Mice"? (I mentioned this once before.) It's short, not difficult, and fun.

Bill L.
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Postby 108-1121887355 » Fri Jan 12, 2007 11:39 am

My folder of variations also has "Three Blind Mice". They are fun and a great learning experience.



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