Variations for Viola & Piano, Op.10
Joseph Joachim (1831-1907) was one of the foremost musical personalities of the 19th century. He studied at the Vienna and Leipzig Conservatories. Mendelssohn was so impressed with his playing that he took the 12 year old Joachim with him to London to perform the Beethoven Violin Concerto. For many years thereafter, Joachim was one of the leading soloists before the public. Later, he became a prominent teacher and served as director of the famous Berlin Hochschule fur Musik. He also led what was considered one of the best string quartets for several decades. Joachim knew a great many of the most important musicians, most of whom he was friends with. This included Brahms, the Schumanns and Liszt to name but a few.
The Variations on an Original Theme were composed in 1854. It is a work of great breadth and seriousness which shows a preference for internal intensity over showy, but intellectually empty virtuoso fireworks. Hearing this work, one would invariably say it sounded Brahmsian. However, it was Joachim who taught Brahms about string instruments and much of Joachim’s early compositions which predate Brahms had this same sound. One might venture to say that Brahms’ later works sound of Joachim. There are 10 variations on the theme with the last two being specifically marked as Gypsy and Hungarian. However, these also are of seriousness. The work ends ruminatively with a contemplative coda.