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Variations in a merry freak

To have such an exposition of genius laid out for us so beautifully and far-reachingly in the course of an otherwise ordinary lunch-hour’s duration seemed to me like a miracle, said Peter Mechen in his review of pianist Ya-Ting Liou’s recent Wellington concert.

Also impressed by Liou’s performance of Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations was arts patron Jack Richards who has now arranged for the Taiwan-born pianist to play the work in Gisborne.

Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations were the composer’s last monumental contribution to the piano repertoire, says Lious.

They originated from a request by Viennese composer Anton Diabelli, who sent an invitation to prestigious colleagues to write variations on a waltz he had composed.

Otherwise known as Thirty-three Variations on a Waltz by Anton Diabelli in C Major, Op.120, Beethoven’s composition represents the composer’s final and loftiest thoughts concerning the piano and its expressive capabilities, says Mechen in his review.

“It’s both characteristic and appropriate that such sublimity of invention on Beethoven’s part should have emanated from such an unprepossessing source.”

“Beethoven wrote these Variations in a merry freak,” Carl Czerny, a pupil of the composer, once wrote.

“In a way, the work is a summary of Beethoven’s experience as a composer,” says Liou.

“You can find humour, philosophical pondering, vigorous rhythm and intellectual speculation in the variations. Each of them is like a miniature version of Beethoven’s masterworks.”

Performing the 33 variations is physically and intellectually challenging, she says.

“Sometimes when I do a concert I like to perform works that are not popular.”

Beethoven embellished the melody in many of the 33 variations but in others he gradually departed from the original idea but kept the basic outline of the piece, says Liou.

“He followed more of a harmonic structure. There is a lot of harmonic work. You need a lot of concentration.”

“The 33 pieces are not variations,” writes concert pianist and ‘virtuosic storyteller’ Eleanor Perrone, “rather they are dense, single-minded short pieces referring to musical atoms in the original theme. Because these atoms are fundamental, this process allows Beethoven to explore every facet of his compositional range.”

In fact, Beethoven did not call the pieces “variationen” but “veranderungen” which best translates as “transformations”.

“That is, rather than contributing a single variation on the theme, he planned a large set of variations.”

Liou has presented concerts as a soloist and chamber musician in New Zealand and abroad. Music critics cite her “secure and impressive technique” and her “ability for expressive and moving playing”.

Performance highlights include appearances at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and venues in Italy, Canada, Argentina and Taiwan.

She has participated in the Music Academy of the West, Kneisel Chamber Music Festival, and has been invited to perform at the Liszt-Garrison Festival, the Music Penn Alps, and the Hsin-Ying Arts Festival.

Last year she performed Beethoven’s Eroica Variations, a set of fifteen variations for solo piano.

Performing the Diabelli Variations, though, is a journey, says Liou.

“This piece is not commonly heard because it is so demanding. It’s not always easy for listeners to digest but I would like to share the experience with the audience.”

Pianist Ya-Ting Liou performs Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations in a house concert at Tiromoana, 41 Winifred Street, Sunday, November 22 at 4pm. Entry $25.

THE CHALLENGE: Auckland-based pianist Ya-Ting Liou looks forward to performing the “physically and intellectually challenging” Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations in Gisborne next week. Picture by Charles Brooks Photographer