You’d better be limber for this performance: “Twinkle twinkle little star” was never more technical. Through variations upon variations Mozart does what no other could (or should) – over-think simple melodies. Although wonderful and beautiful to a small child, the main theme loses its newness much like the infamous “Song that Never Ends.” Repetition and lack-of-newness are the villains during a variation composition, looming and bearing down on one’s creative approach. Sometimes leaving itself open to individuals with massive amounts of time (or the clinically insane) the challenge is exactly how to overcome those monstrous villains. Thank goodness Mozart decided on only 12 ways to pronounce his musical prowess.
Basic synopsis of variations:
I. RH has 16th notes; LH has melody
II. RH melody; LH 16th notes
III. RH triplets; variation moves away from strict melodic repetition
IV. LH triplets in lower tessitura of pianoforte; RH melody
V. RH melody; syncopation incorporated along with chromaticism
VI. RH is melody & accompaniment which moves to LH but back to RH; if not melody, 16th notes
VII. Resembles III variation in that it moves away from strict melodic interpretation, but harmonic structure prevalent
VIII. Slower than any previous movement and in a minor key
IX. Melody played as a round between LH & RH (i.e. Row Your Boat)
X. Builds intensity, possibly preparing ending; extremely flashy and chromatic
XI. Exact opposite to what is expected – backs off building tension and works (very well) as a release point for entire piece; sets up the explosion of notes in XII
XII. LH is frantic while RH plays skeleton melody and is fastest/flashiest/most annoying of all movements
I applaud thee, Mr. Mozart, for beating a dead horse (but beating it well). Some of the variations are but inversions of previous ideas (i.e. I and II) but most are complete ideas unto themselves. Still, those complete ideas reminisce on earlier thoughts producing a work that feels segmented but belonging together, if not simply for the melody “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” (obvious, I know)
A performer should do exactly what Mozart puts on the page, and do it to extremes. What makes this piece is performing the variants as psychotically frantic as possible and then playing the next movement as slow as painfully possible. Contrast, my dear Watson, is the key! Unless you want your audience to 1) fall asleep or 2) slash your tires. Definitely a piece I could see individuals holding a grudge about if not performed well; taking all those repeats can become tedious if not done with taste. That being said, be cautious of not taking repeats...people have been black-listed for less.
But in our accepting reality we know that Mozart is a true genius, endeavoring in work that will push the coming centuries of music. Although simplistic in construction his variations as a group create a wonderful composition that one can come back to again and again.