Variations on a Theme by Brahms (download)
This traditional theme and variations for piano is inspired by the Handel Variations that Brahms crafted for Clara Schumann.
Variations on a Theme by Brahms is, at its heart, a piece driven by transformation, and more specifically, the stages of grief. Brahms is known for his achingly bittersweet and romantic melodies, and this theme from the third movement of his third symphony exemplifies this perfectly.
The melody begins with a restatement of the theme with little variation, representing the first stage of grief: denial. The melody then reinvents itself in a lighter way, signaling avoidance, but this quickly turns into anger and frustration, the second stage of grief. In variation seven, the anger fades, and the music transitions into the third stage of grief: bargaining. In this search for meaning, the melody is split in two, barely recognizable. After this, the melody is played backwards in a new key and different time signature again. It is trying to change the grief in any way possible to escape the fourth stage of grief: depression. This new melody is then harmonized in thirds, signaling companionship. Grieving together with a loved one can help the healing process immensely, and this variation is that discovery. Finally, the original melody returns, but this time in a major key. This is the beginning of acceptance, the last stage of grief. The music slowly transforms closer and closer to its original form, but at the end is stated in the parallel major of the opening theme, in the key of C major.