1873: Brahms: St. Anthony Variations in Bb major (Haydn Variations), age 40

Celibidache, MPO (live, 1980)

  • Theme. Chorale St. Antoni. Andante 0:24
  1. Variation I. Poco più animato (Andante con moto) Bb major 2:49
  2. Variation II. Più vivace (Vivace) Bb minor 4:31
  3. Variation III. Con moto Bb major 5:50
  4. Variation IV. Andante con moto (Andante) Bb minor 7:54
  5. Variation V. Vivace (Poco presto) Bb major 11:08
  6. Variation VI. Vivace Bb major 12:08
  7. Variation VII. Grazioso Bb major 13:35
  8. Variation VIII. Presto non troppo (Poco presto) Bb minor 17:05
  9. Finale. Andante Bb major 18:10

Total time: 21:53

Claudio Abbado

  • Theme. Chorale St. Antoni. Andante
  • Variation I. Poco più animato (Andante con moto)
  • Variation II. Più vivace (Vivace)
  • Variation III. Con moto
  • Variation IV. Andante con moto (Andante)
  • Variation V. Vivace (Poco presto)
  • Variation VI. Vivace
  • Variation VII. Grazioso
  • Variation VIII. Presto non troppo (Poco presto)
  • Finale. Andante

Total time: 17:58


  • piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon
  • 4 horns (2 in E♭, 2 in B♭), 2 trumpets,
  • timpani, triangle
  • strings

Chorale St Antoni:

These variations start with a theme in Bb major based on “Chorale St Antoni”, followed by eight variations and a finale. The work was published in two versions: for two pianos, written first but designated Op. 56b; and for orchestra, designated Op. 56a.

One of the first set of variations:

The orchestral version is better known and much more often heard than the two-piano version. It is often said to be the first independent set of variations for orchestra in the history of music, although there is at least one earlier piece in the same form, Antonio Salieri’s Twenty-six Variations on ‘La folia di Spagna’ written in 1815.

Source of the theme:

There is a long, complicated story which you can read about HERE:


The theme begins with a repeated ten-measure passage which itself consists of two intriguing five-measure phrases, a quirk that is likely to have caught Brahms’s attention. Almost without exception, the eight variations follow the phrasal structure of the theme and, though less strictly, the harmonic structure as well. Each has a distinctive character, several calling to mind the forms and techniques of earlier eras, with some displaying a mastery of counterpoint seldom encountered in Romantic music.

The finale is a magnificent theme and variations on a ground bass, five measures in length, derived from the principal theme. Its culmination, a restatement of the chorale, is a moment of such transcendence that the usually austere Brahms permits himself the use of a triangle.

Just before the end of the piece, in the coda of the finale, Brahms quotes a passage that really is by Haydn.

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