The autograph of the 33 variations (C Major) on a waltz by Anton Diabelli for piano op. 120

In 2009 the Beethoven-Haus managed after tremendous efforts to acquire the last major autograph of a Beethoven masterpiece still owned by a private collector: the autograph of the 33 variations on a waltz by Anton Diabelli op. 120.

Among Beethoven's work the Diabelli Variations are particularly remarkable. Initially, publisher Anton Diabelli asked Beethoven to contribute a variation to a collected edition of the musicians' association "Vaterländischer Tonkünstlerverein" which consisted of 50 composers, among them Franz Schubert, Franz Liszt and Carl Czerny. Beethoven, however, declined. Instead and to demonstrate how special he regarded himself as a composer, he produced 33 variations on the suggested theme that the publisher had consciously chosen to be of simple nature. The variations were composed in two phases: in 1819 and once again in 1822 and 1823. At the same time Beethoven also worked on the 9th Symphony. The pieces show his self-confidence and professional mission as a composer. In a time characterised of poor health and therefore financial plight as well as much worrying about his nephew Karl, Beethoven composed without compromise and contrary to the current expectations a cycle that he knew was far too modern and would not be appreciated as it actually deserved for a long time. But particularly for the older Beethoven composing was an essential activity during which his needs to be able to make a living from his work as a freelance composer had no priority. The result was an extraordinary composition, rich in individualism and on a high compositional level. Next to the Goldberg Variations by Johann Sebastian Bach it is probably the most prominent variations cycle in music history.

The autograph consists of 42 sheets with 81 written pages. Carefully yet expressively done, the hand-writing still shows many traces of compositional changes and reviews. There are only a few manuscripts where Beethoven's efforts for a perfect composition are as visible as in the autograph of the Diabelli Variations. The hand-writing mirrors the composer's personality. At first it expresses how carefully Beethoven considered concept and structure. To ensure good readability of his hand-writing he used a razor blade to carefully scratch out changed parts during review. Then he wrote down the new version. On the other hand Beethoven could not tame his impulsive temper and spontaneity. The inner tension of each variation can be seen in the hand-writing. When composing the Great Fugue (32nd variation) that leads towards a climax, Beethoven fell into such passion that he accidentally overturned the inkwell. As such the whole manuscript oscillates between the two extremes of discipline and overflowing temper.

For several decades the Beethoven-Haus has been home to several authentic sources for this composition. Thus, the autograph is a wonderful addition to the existing collection:
  • two large sketchbooks containing the earliest and und latest sketches for the variations and for a directory of corrections
  • a copy of the original manuscript corrected by Beethoven and complemented with a personal dedication
  • a large share of the respective correspondence (letter 1, 2, 3) with publisher Anton Diabelli
  • a single sheet acquired in 1986 that proved not to be a second version of the notation but an insert for the newly obtained manuscript, making it once again complete after a long time
  • a copy of the original edition featuring a hand-written dedication of the composer

Thanks to a number of generous supporters, among them the German Cultural Foundation "Kulturstiftung der Länder", the German Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media, the Federal State of North Rhine-Westphalia, the Arts Foundation of North Rhine-Westphalia, the city of Bonn, the Gielen-Leyendecker Foundation, the Hans-Joachim-Feiter Foundation, the newspaper "General-Anzeiger Bonn", Sparkasse KölnBonn and Deutsche Bank, Deutsche Telekom, Voss Automotive and IVG Immobilien as well as thousands of private contributors the Beethoven-Haus was able to expand its collection with the most important addition within the last 99 years. Among the musicians and artists who supported the acquisition with beneficial concerts are prominent Beethoven interpreters like Daniel Barenboim, Alfred Brendel, Rudolf Buchbinder, Christoph Eschenbach, Kurt Masur, Anne-Sophie Mutter and Lambert Orkis, Elisabeth Leonskaja, Gerhard Oppitz, András Schiff, Andreas Staier, Mitsuko Uchida, Stefan Vladar and Lars Vogt.