Johannes Brahms


Variations on a Theme by Paganini (1863)

Music critic James Hunker has written the following with regard to the Paganini Variations of Johannes Brahms: “Brahms and Paganini! Was ever so strange a couple in harness? Caliban and Ariel, Jove and Puck. The stolid German, the vibrate Italian! Yet fantasy wins, even if brewed in a homely Teutonic kettle…These diabolical variations, the last word in the technical literature of the piano, are also vast spiritual problems. To play them requires fingers of steel, a heart of burning lava, and the courage of a lion.” Pianist and writer David Dubal calls them “fiendish” and “one of the most subtly difficult works in the literature”. Clara Schumann herself liked to call the Variations “Hexenvariationen” (“Witch’s Variations”) because of its difficulty. Many composers have used the 24th Caprice of Paganini as a springboard for variations, including Liszt, Rachmaninov, and Lutoslawki, to name only a few. For a different twist on Paganini variations, check out the Lutoslawski approach below: a marvelously creative work for piano and orchestra!      

The original Caprice #24 by Paganini, used by MANY composers!!

Lutoslawski: Variations on a Theme of Paganini