Recording: Martin Jones, pianist [NI 1788]

Published 1854.  Dedicated to Mrs. Clara Schumann.

Robert Schumann’s final mental decline and hospitalization occurred a few months after his initial meeting with and championing of Brahms.  Brahms remained in contact with Schumann during his last years in the asylum, and was in fact the principal liaison between the composer and his wife Clara.  This work, his first published large-scale set of variations for solo piano, is closely connected with the events of Schumann’s decline.  Clara herself had written her own set of variations (her Op. 20) on her husband’s first Albumblatt from the set of pieces known as Bunte Blätter, Op. 99 (the piece is actually the fourth in the entire set).  The melancholy tune in F-sharp minor, with its 24-bar structure involving departure and return, was ideal for variations.  Brahms created a deeply personal composition based on the same theme, and it was his second work (after the second piano sonata, incidentally in the same key) dedicated to her.  While the variations do have some features in common with later sets, particularly the Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 21, No. 1, Brahms’s treatment of the theme and its structure is far more free than in that work, the Handel Variations, Op. 24, or the Paganini Variations, Op. 35.  In fact, the slow movements of the first two piano sonatas, with their rather “free” variations, show some influence.  In his Op. 9, Brahms made many connections to the theme’s composer, and free variation treatment was only one of those connections.  To be sure, he generally retains the two-part structure with contrast and return in the second part, although the huge Variation 5 threatens to break free entirely.  He departs from the F-sharp-minor key in Variations 9-11, and he sets the last two variations in the home major key.  There is a gradual buildup through the explosion of Variation 6, and thereafter, starting with the nearly motionless Variation 7, the set is mostly subdued (Variation 12 being the exception).  One fascinating aspect of the variations is their connection to other piano works of Schumann.  Variation 9, for example, is a clear emulation of the second Albumblatt from the same set as the theme (Op. 99, No. 5).  That variation, the first one not in F-sharp-minor, is even in the same key as the second Albumblatt.  Of particular interest is Variation 10 in D major, which makes reference to the theme by Clara used in Robert’s Op. 5 Impromptus, thus honoring both Schumanns.  The bass line of the last variation references the same theme.  Michael Musgrave notes several other possible connections to Schumann piano works in other variations.   Variation 10 is also the most complex example in the variations of a canon, direct imitation between voices that is also used in Variations 8, 14, and 15.  Variation 15 seems to make reference to an Impromptu by Schubert, a composer much beloved by Robert Schumann.  The Schumann Variations constitute one of Brahms’s most satisfying and successful early works, and are a moving tribute to his champion.  In the hospital, Schumann did see the manuscript for the variations and had high praise for them.
*Note: The Variations on a Theme of Robert Schumann for piano duet in E-flat major, Op. 23, constitute a completely separate and unrelated work that uses a different theme. 

In the guide, tempo markings are given for each variation as indicated in the score.  Except for the original theme, the key is only given if it is not F-sharp minor (Variations 9-11 and 15-16).  Meters are always indicated for each variation.

ONLINE SCORE FROM IMSLP (First Edition from Brahms-Institut Lübeck)

ONLINE SCORE FROM IMSLP (First Edition [monochrome] from Russian State Library)
ONLINE SCORE FROM IMSLP (From Breitkopf & Härtel Sämtliche Werke)

ONLINE SCORE FROM IMSLP of Schumanns Bunte Blätter, Op. 99, the source of the variation theme (Robert Schumanns Werke, edited by Clara Schumann).  The first Albumblatt (the fourth piece in the set) is the theme.  The second Albumblatt (the fifth piece in the set) is a model for Variation 9.
ONLINE SCORE FROM IMSLP of Schumann's Impromptus on a Theme of Clara Wieck, Op. 5 (Robert Schumanns Werke, edited by Clara Schumann, second version of Op. 5), which has connections to Variations 10 and 16.

NOTE: In this recording, Variations 7-16 are on a new CD track/file.
0:00 [m. 1]--THEMA.  Ziemlich langsam (Rather slowly).  F-SHARP MINOR, 2/4 time.  Part 1.  It consists of two similar four-bar units.  A top voice descends slowly in a lamenting manner.  A prominent bass line winds its way downward, and two middle voices have internal motion in the first bar.  Both units end with an anticipatory reiteration of the last melody note.  The top line stays the same in both patterns, but under the second, the bass and the harmony make a motion to the related major key, A.
0:12 [m. 9]--Part 2.  For the contrasting eight-bar phrase, three two-bar units all begin the same way, in the new key of C-sharp minor.  They each strive up to an accented note.  The second one moves a third higher.  The third goes to the same higher note, but delays it with a syncopated rhythm.  After this, a final two bars settle back down and reach a cadence in C-sharp minor that is reminiscent of the descent in Part 1.
0:50 [m. 17]--The return to the Part 1 material essentially reverses the two phrases.  The first four-bar unit is in A major.  Its first two bars are slightly different from the second unit of Part 1, since they do not begin in F-sharp minor.  They begin with a leaping grace note and a dissonant harmony before the third and fourth bars, which are the same as the end of Part 1.  The second four-bar unit is nearly identical to the first unit of Part 1, but its melodic descent is longer and has more closure on its hushed F-sharp-minor cadence.
1:17 [m. 25]--VARIATION 1.  2/4 time.  Part 1.  The melodic line moves to the left hand, where it serves as a rather high bass line.  The right hand has new upward-reaching figures in full chords and dotted (long-short) rhythm.  The harmonies of the two four-bar units essentially follow those of the Theme, except that the first chord in each is the more unstable and forward-pressing “dominant” chord.
1:39 [m. 33]--Part 2.  The C-sharp-minor patterns now descend, include dotted rhythms, and all have prominent syncopation on their “target” notes.  Each two-bar unit begins a third higher, has fuller harmonies, and has greater volume and intensity.  The third even begins with a huge rolled chord and unexpectedly turns to major.  In the left hand is the original melody from the two-bar units of the theme, but the third of these is now in major.  The final two bars descend as expected, with right hand chords after the beat, but they do not reach the expected C-sharp-minor cadence, instead pressing forward to the return.
2:06 [m. 41]--The return of the Part 1 material now has a much lower bass line and abandons the complete transfer of the original theme to the bass.  The first four-bar phrase now begins in C-sharp major and moves to A major, but without the full cadence, instead stalling unexpectedly on a D-major chord.  The upward-reaching figures from Part 1 are now passed between the right hand and an upper left-hand (tenor) voice, as well as the bass.  The second phrase has dissonance but, as expected, cadences quietly in F-sharp minor.
2:37 [m. 49]--VARIATION 2.  Poco più moto, 9/8 time.  Part 1.  The arrival of a new meter is unusual so early in the Variations, and 9/8 is quite dissimilar to 2/4.  All of Part 1 is compressed into two bars.  The bass line from the original theme is also compressed but has all the notes.  The first bar ends in F-sharp minor, the second in A major.  The bass line is in a skittish, detached dotted rhythm, and the right hand plays expressive chords in heavy syncopation, even holding over bar lines.
2:43 [m. 51]--Part 2.  The compression continues in Part 2, which now presents the contrasting C-sharp-minor material in two bars.  The “return” is also in two bars, for a total of four.  The bass line continues its pattern of skittish dotted rhythm.  It essentially follows the bass of the theme, but not as rigidly as Part 1 did.  The right hand continues its syncopated chords, but breaks them in the second bar, where the chords soar in a cross-rhythm.  The syncopation is restored for the two “return” bars in A major and F-sharp minor.
2:55 [m. 55]--To prevent the compressed variation from seeming too short, it is repeated in its entirety.  Part 1 is heard as at 2:37 [m. 49].
3:01 [m. 57]--Part 2 restated, as at 2:43 [m. 51].
3:14 [m. 61]--VARIATION 3.  Tempo di tema, 2/4 time.  Part 1.  Like Variation 1, the original theme melody is placed in the left hand, but this time the left hand crosses over the right to play it on its original notes.  The right hand plays upward-reaching figures similar to those in Variation 1, but they now include a triplet rhythm.  These figures alternate low and high, the first and third being played below the left-hand melody, the second and fourth uncrossing and sounding high above it.  The fourth and last pattern, in A major, introduces bell-like rolled chords.  The harmonies are similar to those of Variation 1.
3:35 [m. 69]--Part 2.  The contrasting phrase initially follows the pattern of Part 1 and begins in C-sharp minor with the melody in the left hand, as expected.  The figures with triplets continue to alternate low and high.  The harmonies, however, pull away from C-sharp from the outset, and on the second two-bar pattern, with the left hand below the right, there is a deft shift to the very distant F major/minor, using the note C (or B-sharp) as a pivot.  Perhaps to help mark this moment, the last two triplet patterns descend instead of ascending.  The contrasting phrase concludes in F minor, with the left hand above the right.  The descent in the last two bars retains the after-beat chords in the right hand, but they are now in the lower tenor register.
4:01 [m. 77]--The return, as usual, reverses the basic pattern of Part 1, but now the left-hand melody remains in the low range, below the right hand.   The figures with triplets continue to alternate low and high.  The first four-bar phrase has the bell-like rolled chords, like the second phrase of Part 1.  The harmonies, however, are completely altered.  The first phrase begins in F minor, continuing from the contrasting phrase, a half-step below the home key.  When it reaches the bell-like chords, it turns to A-flat major, which is related to F minor.  In the second phrase, this A-flat is re-spelled as G-sharp, and that note is used to shift up to F-sharp minor, where the second phrase ends as it should.  The last triplet figure unexpectedly jumps low instead of high, interlocking with the left hand.
4:26 [m. 85]--VARIATION 4.  Poco più moto, 2/4 time.  Part 1.  This is the first variation to begin with an upbeat.  It is quite rhythmic, and places a new version of the melody above a steady pulsation.  This pulsation passes groups of two rapidly repeated octaves or other two-note harmonies between the left and right hands.  The new melody is quite expressive and smooth above this.  Both phrases end with an oscillating triplet rhythm, and as expected reach cadences on F-sharp minor and A major.
4:43 [m. 93]--Part 2.  The pattern of the contrasting phrase is followed, with three two-bar units.  The pattern of pulsation and the character of the new melody remain in force.  Each two-bar unit begins a third higher and becomes somewhat more intense.  The passage actually remains in A major for most of its course, only turning to C-sharp at the end.  The final descent to the cadence in C-sharp minor has richly colorful harmonies and chromatic melody notes.
5:01 [m. 101]--The return compensates for using A major so much in the contrasting phrase by placing its first four bars not there, but in C-sharp minor/major.  The  last four bars again move to F-sharp minor, but they are wider ranging than the first phrase of Part 1.  The pulsations and the new melody retain their basic character throughout the variation, and both phrases of this return end with the triplet oscillation.
5:22 [m. 109]--VARIATION 5.  Allegro capriccioso, 2/4 time.  Part 1.  The entire first part is extended from eight bars to eleven bars.  It begins with a two-bar series of loud, rapid-fire repetitions of the note C-sharp cascading down the keyboard octaves.  There are then two quieter bars of equally rapid pulsating repetitions of notes or harmonies passed between the hands, similar to the patterns in Variation 5, but much faster and with no melody above them.  These establish not F-sharp minor, but C-sharp minor.  For the next three bars, the repetitions on C-sharp begin again, now moving upward, but they arrest themselves, descend, and settle on a dissonant harmony that suggests a motion to F-sharp minor, where the music “belongs.”
5:29 [m. 116]--The last four bars of Part 1 return to the quiet rapid pulsations, moving quickly from F-sharp minor to A major, thus preserving the expected pattern of harmonies for Part 1.
5:34 [m. 120]--Part 2.  The contrasting phrase is extended to twelve bars.  It begins with two series of the loud, rapid single-note repetitions, two bars each, first on C-sharp, then on E, which both suggest the expected C-sharp minor.  But then the quiet pulsations begin by actually moving away from C-sharp minor.  For eight bars they gradually build, moving strongly back to C-sharp and then, at the climax, erupting again into the cascading repetitions of that note, now all in octaves.  At the last moment, a low bass note hits E-sharp, the leading note into F-sharp minor, in preparation for the “return.”
5:47 [m. 132]--The “return” consists solely of the rapid pulsations, which again build, this time erupting after only three bars into two bars of cascading octave repetitions on F-sharp.  Suddenly, these turn violently to the chord of F-sharp MAJOR, whose lead-in and arrival are sustained for three bars, completing the eight-bar unit.
5:56 [m. 140]--The variation is extended by a powerful twelve-bar coda, in which the rapid pulsations build strongly from a quiet beginning to a grand ending.  The pulsations expand outward as they build.  The coda begins in the new key of B minor, and the harmony descends by thirds, to G major/minor, then E-flat major, then B minor again before decisively moving back to the home key of F-sharp minor for the last six bars.  As is appropriate for this variation, the coda ends with descending repetitions of F-sharp, but a harmony is added at the last minute that suddenly implies the major key, as at the end of the “return.”
6:11 [m. 152]--VARIATION 6.  Allegro, 6/8 time.  Part 1.  Not only does the meter shift to 6/8, where each beat is already divided into three parts, but the units of each beat are themselves in triplet rhythm, resulting in a “double” triple division, eighteen pulsations per bar.  The main argument is a series of rapidly and violently plunging arpeggios punctuated by leaping low bass notes.  It begins with an upbeat chord.  The arpeggios outline a rudimentary melody with the opening notes of the triplet groups.  The first two-bar descent reaches a cadence in F-sharp minor while the second moves not to A major, but to C-sharp minor.  The entire pattern is then repeated in full to create an eight-bar Part 1.
6:25 [m. 160]--Part 2.  Because C-sharp minor has already been used, the contrasting passage is more harmonically active over seven bars.  The triplet arpeggios and rudimentary melody proceed in one-bar units, and the left hand joins the arpeggios instead of playing the punctuating notes. The passage begins with two bars that shift toward B-flat (re-spelled from A-sharp) and F (re-spelled from E-sharp). The next three bars remain anchored to the “dominant” chord of the distant C major, the instability and intensity increasing greatly toward a tremendous descent on the chord.  This rapidly diminishes, and then the triplet groups settle on an uneasy rumbling.  The notes are subtly altered, including a re-spelling of F as E-sharp over a slowly descending bass line, to lead to the preparatory “dominant” of the home key, F-sharp minor.
6:38 [m. 167]--The “return” begins like Part 1, with the two-bar descent reaching a cadence in F-sharp minor.  It then diverges, however, blossoming into a tremendously active nine-bar extension for a total of eleven bars.  This extension has three rapid, strong descents moving to A major, G major, and C major before settling on another uneasy rumbling.  This includes many dissonant harmonies and yet another motion to B major before the bass line takes over, along with the melody outlined by the first notes of the triplets, and leads back home to F-sharp minor for the final downward plunge.
6:58--END OF TRACK.  Variation 7 begins with a new track. 0:00 on this track would be 6:58 in the overall time structure.  Add 6:58 to the times below to integrate them into the variations as a whole.
0:00 [m. 178]--VARIATION 7.  Andante, 4/4 and 3/4 time.  Part 1.  After the huge increase in activity between Variations 3 and 6, the powerful, punctuating close of Variation 6 leads into a Variation of near-motionlessness that has been stripped to its bare essentials.  With upbeats held into downbeats and only harmonic motion, the pattern of Part 1 is compressed to four bars in a longer 4/4 time.  The upbeats are repeated chords that lean into downbeats, alternating high and low.  There are passing, biting dissonances, and many suspended resolutions.
0:18 [m. 182]--Part 2.  The harmonies of the contrasting phrase are completely changed and very unstable.  They float from A minor (altered from the A major at the end of Part 1) to E major, move through dissonant and floating diminished harmonies, and reach a pause on the “dominant” chord of C major.  The phrase has only completed three bars at the pause.  The repeated chords leaning into downbeats continue.
0:35 [m. 185]--The “return” is notated in 3/4 for the first three bars, but the effect is not one of metric shift, rather a slightly faster motion.  The alternations now begin lower, so that the last pattern is in the higher register.  This is due to the abbreviated contrasting phrase.  The harmonies here are also unstable as they wend their way through A major, then touch G major before floating down to the tortured cadence in F-sharp minor.  The last bar is again notated in 4/4 with a held last chord.  The return dies away, slowing.
0:56 [m. 189]--VARIATION 8.  Andante (non troppo lento), 2/4 time.  Part 1.  The variation is atmospheric and subdued, but it contains a very strict canon (direct imitation) between the hands, with the left hand following the right an octave below and two bars behind.  The right hand plays the original theme, with its original harmonic motions, at the top of gently rolled chords.  When the left hand follows, the imitation is somewhat concealed by embedding it in an octave tremolo, either in groups of six (triplet rhythm) or eight (faster straight rhythm) or a combination like 3+4.  This depends on the motion of the melody, which the tremolo outlines exactly.  The imitation is thus both one and two octaves below the right hand.
1:17 [m. 197]--Part 2.  The contrasting phrase begins in the right hand, still over rolled chords.  The left hand tremolo is still completing its imitation of Part 1 under the first two bars.  The contrasting phrase is in its original C-sharp minor, and nearly in its original form.  Each of the three two-bar statements is a third higher than the last, so the third one is higher than in the theme, but it retains the original syncopation, reaching an understated climax.  The left-hand tremolo does follow the theme exactly, mostly in broken octaves, but it does include some bass notes that are outside the melody, as it did in Part 1, and a few unbroken octaves at the ends of measures.
1:39 [m. 205]--The “return” follows the same pattern, with the left hand tremolo completing the imitation of the contrasting phrase under the first two bars.  The harmonies of the theme are retained for the return, but the right hand chords shift it to F-sharp major at the last moment.  The variation is extended for two bars to complete the left hand imitation, but because of the major turn of the right hand, the left hand arrives on the major key at the same time, so a bit earlier in the melody.  Over the completion, the right hand plays static rolled chords as the turn to major is confirmed and the music slows to the close on the left hand tremolo.
2:13 [m. 215]--VARIATION 9.  Schnell (Fast).  B MINOR, 2/4 time.  Part 1.  The first variation to be set in a new key passes in rapid, quiet waves.  Each bar has an arching arpeggio of twelve notes played in triplet rhythm.  Embedded in these arpeggios are syncopated “sigh” figures that make obvious reference to the theme.  There are punctuating low bass notes in the middle of each bar.  The four-bar units are compressed to two, and the second of these makes the expected move to the “relative” D major key, following the theme’s pattern.  Part 1 is repeated in its entirety to create a complete eight-bar segment.
2:22 [m. 223]--Part 2.  The contrasting phrase is in F-sharp minor, the home key, which stands in the correct relationship to B minor, the key of this variation.  The surging triplets continue, along with the punctuating bass notes and syncopated melodic fragments buried in the arpeggios.  The pattern follows what has gone before, with three intensifying statements, now compressed to one bar.  The third statement reaches a climax and is given a three-bar extension to settle down.  In this extension, the arpeggios are abbreviated to six notes and a half-bar each, and the “sigh” figures are not syncopated.  The key moves back to B minor.
2:30 [m. 229]--The “return” duplicates the first two bars of part 1, then veers its own way, as expected, for the next two.  The quick variation adds a three-bar “coda” in which the two hands play rustling triplets in opposite directions at a very quiet level, finally reaching an incomplete cadence in B minor.
2:43 [m. 236]--VARIATION 10.  Poco Adagio.  D MAJOR, 2/4 time.  Part 1.  The first major-key variation introduces another canon, this time one by “inversion,” or having one part turn the other upside down.  In this first statement of Part 1, the canon is simultaneous, beginning a tenth below.  The bass line is the exact inversion of the melody, which itself is lush and expressive, its major key immediately emerging like light.  The first phrase ends with a gentle triplet rhythm.  In the middle, coming after the downbeats, are faster figures harmonized mostly in thirds and fifths, but with other intervals and harmonies.  The upward-striving second phrase moves to A major, as do most of the F-sharp minor variations.  Now it is the “dominant” key.
3:04 [m. 244]--Part 1, varied repeat.  Part 1 is given again to reveal the canon by inversion as a canon.  The bass no longer plays the inversion simultaneously.  The inversion is now given to a new voice in the alto range two octaves higher than the bass presentation, and it begins a bar after the top melody, thus creating a true “imitation by inversion.”  The left hand plays new, widely ascending arpeggios in six-note triplet (sextuplet) grouping, with a rest substituting for the second note of each group.   In the second phrase, the imitation strays a bit, moving one or two steps higher, and the last figure of the imitation is a half-bar closer.  Rolled chords are used strategically, usually before the imitation begins, in this varied repetition.
3:24 [m. 252]--Part 2.  The contrasting phrase is in F-sharp minor, as it was in Variation 9.  The wide arpeggios continue in the left hand, still in groups of six with rests on the second notes.  The canon by inversion is again simultaneous, and it is hidden in the lowest notes of the left-hand arpeggios.  The two-bar units include “sighing figures,” the first of which is an internal harmony and the second of which is syncopated.  The music intensifies slightly.  Rolled chords are again strategically used.
3:34 [m. 256]--At the third two-bar unit of the contrasting phrase is a true tour de force moment.  It begins as did the first two, but in the second bar, the canon by inversion is heard an octave higher and a bar later, in a similar manner to the repetition of Part 1, but now in the tenor range.  The simultaneous canon in the bass is still going on an octave lower.  In addition to this astounding complexity, the second bar and the two following bars strive higher and make an extremely bright key change to C-sharp major.  At this same point, the left hand arpeggios, after breaking in the second bar, reverse direction and move down.  They retain the rhythm, but replace the rests by holding the first notes over to the third “beat.”  The music recedes.
3:44 [m. 260]--The “return” begins with a slight dissonance.  The melody then matches that of Part 1, but it is harmonized in B minor instead of D major.  The canon and inversion are now absent.  The downward-moving six-beat arpeggios with held first notes continue in the left hand from the previous passage.  The second phrase, which serenely returns to D major, includes another magical moment.  A middle voice subtly enters with entirely new material against the melody.  It turns out that this is a reference to the “Theme of Clara Wieck” used in Schumann’s Op. 5 Impromptus.  Following the cadence bar, an extra bar is added in the left hand.  It straightens the rhythm of the last arpeggio, preparing the 4/16 meter of the next variation.
4:08 [m. 269]--VARIATION 11.  Un poco più animato.  G MAJOR, 4/16 time.  Part 1.  In one of the most radical transformations yet, the two phrases of Part 1 are compressed to six brief bars, three bars each.  The right hand plays a light and atmospheric, but deliberate series of octaves moving by steps, arching up and back down.  They are given an internal harmony on the second half of each bar that helps to define the thematic outline.  The left hand leaps widely from bass notes on the first half of the bar to higher two-note harmonies on the second half.  The odd 4/16 meter, instead of the more “logical” fast 2/4, relates the notes of the briefer measures to those of the previous variation, which was in a slow 2/4
4:15 [m. 275]--Part 2.  The entirety of Part 2 is compressed into seven bars.  The first two continue the figuration of Part 1 and, with their rising sequence, make reference to the contrasting phrase.  The remaining five introduce a new and constant series of syncopated chords held over beats and bar lines.  After an initial bass descent, the left hand returns to the former pattern under these.  These syncopations correspond to the “return,” but the first bar of them continues the rising sequence of the first two bars and thus “overlaps.”  The last bar is held over into the following repetition with no clear arrival on G major.
4:25 [m. 282]--Part 1 repeated, after a holdover of the previous syncopated chord.  From the off-beat beginning of the atmospheric octaves, this is an exact repetition.
4:32 [m. 288]--Part 2 repeated, completing a full repetition of the variation, as in Variation 2.  The very last syncopated chord has its harmony slightly altered and leads into an added measure.  This extra bar serves as a transition, sliding to the preparatory “dominant” of the variations’ home key, F-sharp minor.  The entire variation, while suggesting (and notated in) G major, never has a full arrival point there or anywhere else.
4:46 [m. 296]--VARIATION 12.  Alleretto, poco scherzando, 2/4 time.  Part 1.  The home key of F-sharp minor has returned for the first time since Variation 8.  This variation begins with a skittish, halting scherzo-like character.  Rests are substituted for the third chord in four-chord groups.  The left hand leaps freely between low bass notes and higher chord notes.  All of Part 1 is compressed into four bars.  The outline of the theme is clear.  The harmonic motions are familiar, but full cadences and arrivals are avoided.
4:52 [m. 300]--Part 2.  The contrasting phrase, in a marked difference from the brief Part 1, is stretched to seven bars.  The three rising statements all present a bar of the skittish “scherzo” rhythm followed by a suddenly subdued, sustained extension.  The third statement extends the “scherzo” rhythm to two bars and also stretches out the sustained extension.  This now builds up in strong syncopated chords, reaching a dramatic pause as C-sharp major (not minor) becomes the “dominant” of F-sharp minor.
5:08 [m. 307]--The “return” begins with two bars of the “skittish” rhythm, somewhat smoothed out.  The continuation (the second phrase), moves from detached notes to a smooth, connected legato, still with the basic rhythm, which is now effectively a syncopation.  It builds to an unexpected climax.  Two bars are added, and the syncopated chords reach a tension-filled pause.
5:22 [m. 313]--Brahms resolves the tension by giving the variation a coda.  It is based on an unstable cross rhythm with groups of three.  In these, very high and low notes leap inward to chords.  The bass stays anchored to the “dominant” note, C-sharp, until the final bar.  As the coda builds rapidly in both speed and volume, the groups of three are gradually abandoned for groups of four and two.  The last of the five bars is marked “Presto” and ends with an emphatic F-sharp octave.
5:33 [m. 318]--VARIATION 13.  Non troppo Presto, 2/4 time.  Part 1.  The very quiet, light, oscillating chords and double notes are sometimes compared to similar figuration in Schumann’s Op. 7 Toccata, but that piece is loud and extroverted.  All of Part 1, with its harmonies, is compressed into four bars, but these four bars are stated twice, indicated by the only repeat sign in the variations.
5:49 [m. 322]--Part 2.  The contrasting phrase is of full length, and even extended by one bar.  The three sequential rising statements are each only a bar long, but they do move to C-sharp minor as expected.  When the sequence reaches its highest point, there is a somewhat sustained “music box” effect in this register before the last three bars lead into the “return.”  In these last bars, the left hand breaks the previous steady, uninterrupted motion with rests.  These separate some very large leaps that are themselves far apart.
6:07 [m. 331]--The return is rather jarring and interrupts an expected arrival on C-sharp.  The first two bars are the same as the first two of Part 1, but they are an octave lower in both hands.  The next two are altered so that they arrive on B minor instead of A major.  There is then a three-bar extension with the right hand playing mostly in sixths as it slows and descends to a close in the home key.  This seven-bar return phrase, combined with the nine-bar contrasting phrase, places Part 2 as a whole at a square sixteen measures.
6:25 [m. 338]--VARIATION 14.  Andante, 3/8 time.  Part 1.  This variation is another strict canon.  This time, it is at the second, meaning that the following voice begins a step higher than the leading voice.  This happens at a distance of two bars.  Both voices are in the right hand.  Brahms places the entry of the following voice against a repetition of the leading voice’s first note so that the dissonance will emphasize the difficult compositional challenge.  The phrases are lengthened to six bars for a total of twelve.  The melody of the canon is a melancholy waltz with a distinctive opening dotted (long-short) rhythm.  The accompanying left hand plays arching arpeggios that stretch two bars.  The actual cadences happen as the new phrases begin, and the following voice is still completing its phrase as the leading voice begins in the seventh bar.  The leading voice rests on the sixth bar of each phrase.
6:46 [m. 350]--Part 2.  The following voice is still completing its Part 1 imitation as the leading voice begins Part 2 in A major.  The contrasting phrase is in four-bar units, the second reaching higher than the first in sequence, preserving the character of the contrasting phrase but eliminating the third sequence.  The leading voice rests as the following voice completes the second unit, thus stretching the entire segment to ten bars.  Each voice holds a long note for two bars before dropping an octave at the very end of the phrase.  The entire contrasting phrase intensifies to the point where the following voice holds its last high note, which is at a strong level.  The canon prevents the harmonies from moving to the usual C-sharp minor.  The phrase is in A major and G major before moving to more dissonant “diminished” arpeggios at the end.  These are conveyed by the continuing left hand arpeggios.
7:04 [m. 360]--The “return” has the same canon as Part 1 for its first phrase, but the left-hand harmonies are different.  They do not move to F-sharp minor right away, instead continuing the dissonant “diminished” harmonies from the contrasting phrase before moving to B minor.  The mood is again melancholy and subdued.  In the upbeat to the second phrase, the leading voice introduces a new figure that shoots upward.  This overlaps the following voice where Part 1 did not.  The leading voice completes its second phrase after four bars, allowing the following voice the last two bars to itself to bring the canon to total completion.  The leading voice finishes over the preparatory “dominant” harmony.  The final motion to F-sharp minor is delayed until the completion of the following voice.  The left hand continues its arpeggios throughout.
7:28 [m. 372]--VARIATION 15.  Poco Adagio.  G-FLAT MAJOR, 6/4 time.  Part 1.  The home major key is the apparent goal of the variations.  Here it is notated as G-flat rather than F-sharp, perhaps to make reference to Franz Schubert’s Impromptu in that key (Op. 90, No. 2), which the variation superficially resembles.  Schumann was a champion of his earlier romantic predecessor.  Brahms now casts Schumann’s melody as a lush romantic song with rippling and colorful ascending arpeggios.  But he conceals yet another canon in the bass, which strictly imitates the melody a bar later and a sixth below.  Both four-bar units of Part 1 make the same arrival on G-flat.  The second of these begins higher and embellishes its descent.
7:56 [m. 380]--Part 2.  The contrasting phrase is set in the “relative” E-flat-minor key, with many chromatic color notes.  Its first two statements begin the same, but end with syncopated downward leaps, the second wider than the first and reaching down a full octave.  The bass continues to strictly imitate the melody a bar later and a sixth below.  The third sequential statement reverses direction and reaches quite high, but preserves the syncopated leap.  This builds to a climax, and then its continuation recedes in a beautiful transition back to the opening melody.
8:21 [m. 388]--The first bar of the “return”  still lingers on the E-flat-minor harmonies, allowing the bass to complete the descent that the top melody just made, continuing the very strict imitation below.  At the continuation from the second bar, where the bass made its original entrance, the return rather strictly follows the first presentation in Part 1 without the usual variance.  Two bars of “coda” are added at the end, not just to allow the bass to continue to completion, but also to give a fitting conclusion to this most expressive variation, including rippling rolled chords.  The arpeggios continue uninterrupted to the end.
9:00 [m. 398]--VARIATION 16.  Adagio.  F-SHARP MAJOR, 6/4 time.  Part 1.  The cadence of Variation 15, fulfilling though it is, merges directly into this final variation.  The major key is the same, but Brahms now notates it as F-sharp major to match the “spelling” of the original theme.  The 6/4 meter is also retained.  Brahms chooses to end his variations on a serene note with this understated conclusion.  The main element of interest is the bass line, which is only decorated by four isolated, syncopated off-beat cadence chord patterns.  This bass line, played in octaves, seems to be an echo of the beautiful melody from Variation 10.  Closer examination reveals that it closely resembles the original bass line from the “Clara” theme heard in that variation.  The second phrase makes a turn to a minor key, apparently A-sharp minor.
9:29 [m. 406]--Part 2.  A-sharp minor is a more complicated notation of B-flat minor, used here because of the sharps in F-sharp major.  The contrasting phrase remains there.  Again, the bass line carries the argument, with three two-bar statements that expand and intensify.  As in Variation 15, these statements expand downward, and now this is true for all three of them.  Meanwhile, the syncopated off-beat chord patterns in the right hand now occur in every bar.  These reach upward until the last bass pattern, where, at the climax, they move back down.  The remaining two bars settle and come to a complete cadence in A-sharp minor, the right hand still following with off-beat chords.
9:59 [m. 414]--The “return” is extremely quiet.  The first four bars have the bass line returning to the rhythm, if not the melody, of the original theme.  They begin the motion back to the major key through D-sharp (or E-flat) minor, which leads smoothly from the preceding A-sharp.  The right hand is more sparse than in the contrasting phrase, but more prominent than in Part 1.
10:15 [m. 418]--The final four bars return to F-sharp major and use the original bass line from the first four bars of Part 1.  They add a downward octave leap before the cadence.  This ending uses a rare ppp (triple piano) mark from Brahms, indicating that the piece is almost, but perhaps not quite funereal in nature.  One thing to note is that, except for the ending of Variation 12, everything from Variation 7 on is quite subdued.
10:52 (runoff after 10:37, 17:50 total)--END OF VARIATIONS [421 mm.]