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For Immediate Release

Pianist Shai Wosner performs Beethoven's Diabelli Variations on a recording to be released by Onyx Classics, September 29

New York, NY (August 1, 2023) - Pianist Shai Wosner performs Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations–a collection of 33 variations based on a waltz by Anton Diabelli–to be released on Onyx Classics on September 29, 2023.

Wosner delves into the enigma behind Beethoven’s relentless creative exploration in his new recording of the Diabelli Variations. Wosner’s artistry and insight unlock how the composer turned his initial disdain for what he considered a trivial, workmanlike theme into a manifesto for his own musical philosophy—the transformation of simple ideas into profound expressions of truth. 

“Beethoven never wrote the same piece twice. Each one—symphonies, sonatas, string quartets–is a highly individualistic creature. And yet even among them, something about his Diabelli Variations makes it stand apart,” says Wosner. “In fact, its ‘differentness’ was evident before even a single note was written: unlike most of his other major works, the impetus for this one first came from the ‘outside.’”

In 1819, Beethoven was one of 50 composers contacted by Anton Diabelli to contribute a variation on a waltz the music publisher had composed. Beethoven’s creativity unleashed a monumental 33 variations, completed alongside his other significant works, such as the Missa Solemnis and his final three piano sonatas. Diabelli’s simple waltz in C major became a launching pad for variations in an unprecedented array of moods and styles, paying homage to various historical and contemporary influences. The initial variation presents a grand statement to the world, followed by introspective vignettes. Wosner brings out the DNA of the theme, which remains at the core of the work but is ingeniously reshaped and reimagined in a rich tapestry of emotions, ranging from playful to heartrending.

According to legend, Beethoven hated Diabelli’s waltz, dismissing it as a Schusterfleck (cobbler’s patch), a derogatory term for trivial, predictably repetitive music. “But had he truly hated it, would he have bothered to spend so much time on it?” Wosner questions. “And besides, the waltz’s generic features are precisely what makes it doubly appealing. It is so unassuming, he could take it anywhere… Beethoven indeed uses those very basic, repeated chords like elemental building blocks, manipulating them like raw material as if in an experiment to see how they would ‘behave’ in each variation.

“In that sense, the Diabelli Variations are like a manifesto for what his music is all about: what you start doesn’t matter as much as what you do with it. And what better vehicle than Diabelli’s ‘cobbler’s patch’; to show the power of music to transport us all from the commonplace to the sublime.”

Wosner turned to the Diabelli Variations during the COVID-19 pandemic: “When the world shut down it was like a welcome escape from reality but also a renewable source of optimism. Escape, because the piece is in a way very much 'about' music, toying with all sort of styles and abstract sonic ideas, taking them apart and putting them back together again; and a source for hope because as daunting and monumental as it's clearly meant to be, it doesn't actually take itself too seriously. It ends with that big chord that's both decisive and open at the same time, pointing at a future of possibility. Very few pieces manage to do that…”

The Diabelli Variations origins story also inspired Wosner to commission a multi-composer suite, Variations on a Theme of FDR. He asked five contemporary composers—Derek Bermel, Anthony Cheung, John Harbison, Vijay Iyer, and Wang Lu—to create a work based on a quote from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1938 address to the Daughters of the American Revolution: “Remember, remember always, that all of us… are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.” Wosner has paired the two sets of variations in recital, and proceeds from a recording of the work have benefited asylum seekers in New York City, just as proceeds from Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations assisted orphans and widows of the Napoleonic Wars.

Ludwig van Beethoven 

Diabelli Variations, Op. 120 in C Major 

Shai Wosner, Piano 

Theme. Vivace (C major)

Variation 1. Alla marcia maestoso (C major)

Variation 2. Poco allegro (C major)

Variation 3. L’istesso tempo (C major)

Variation 4. Un poco più vivace (C major)

Variation 5. Allegro vivace (C major)

Variation 6. Allegro ma non troppo e serioso (C major)

Variation 7. Un poco più allegro (C major)

Variation 8. Poco vivace (C major)

Variation 9. Allegro pesante e risoluto (C minor)

Variation 10. Presto (C major)

Variation 11. Allegretto (C major)

Variation 12. Un poco più moto (C major)

Variation 13. Vivace (A minor)

Variation 14. Grave e maestoso (C major)

Variation 15. Presto scherzando (C major)

Variation 16. Allegro (C major)

Variation 17. [Allegro] (C major)

Variation 18. Poco moderato (C major)

Variation 19. Presto (C major)

Variation 20. Andante (C major)

Variation 21. Allegro con brio – Meno allegro (C major)

Variation 22. Allegro molto, alla ‘Notte e giorno faticar’ di Mozart (C major)

Variation 23. Allegro assai (C major)

Variation 24. Fughetta. Andante (C major)

Variation 25. Allegro (C major)

Variation 26. Piacevole (C major)

Variation 27. Vivace (C major)

Variation 28. Allegro (C major)

Variation 29. Adagio ma non troppo (C minor)

Variation 30. Andante, sempre cantabile (C minor)

Variation 31. Largo, molto espressivo (C minor)

Variation 32. Fugue. Allegro (E♭ major)

Variation 33. Tempo di Minuet moderato (C major)

Total duration: 1 hr

Shai Wosner has attracted international recognition for his exceptional artistry, musical integrity, and creative insight. His performances of a broad range of repertoire—from Beethoven and Schubert to Ligeti and the music of today—reflect a degree of virtuosity and intellectual curiosity that has made him a favorite among audiences and critics, who note his “keen musical mind and deep musical soul” (NPR’s All Things Considered). In addition to his work as a solo recitalist and chamber musician, he has performed with major orchestras across the U.S., including the Chicago and San Francisco Symphonies, Cleveland and Philadelphia Orchestras, and Los Angeles Philharmonic, and has performed abroad with the Staatskapelle Berlin, Vienna Philharmonic, and West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, among many other ensembles. His recordings range from Schubert sonatas—continuing his career-long, critically acclaimed engagement with the composer’s music—to chamber works by Bartók and Kurtág, to concerti by Haydn and Ligeti. He is a recipient of Lincoln Center’s Martin E. Segal Award, an Avery Fisher Career Grant, and a Borletti-Buitoni Trust Award. He is Resident Artist of Peoples’ Symphony Concerts in New York and is on the piano faculty at the Juilliard School and Bard College Conservatory of Music. Born in Israel, Wosner enjoyed a broad musical education from a very early age, studying piano with Opher Brayer and Emanuel Krasovsky, as well as composition, theory, and improvisation with André Hajdu. He later studied with Emanuel Ax at the Juilliard School.

Onyx Classics is an artist-led label, distinguished by its commitment to quality over quantity with approximately 12-15 annual releases. Specializing in classical artists of worldwide renown, many of whom previously held major label contracts, Onyx empowers musicians to take charge of their recording careers through true collaborations and artistic ownership. Onyx has a diverse and captivating catalog, which includes recordings such as Viktoria Mullova's debut on the baroque violin and unique collaboration with Arvo Pärt, Pascal Rogé's complete Debussy cycle, the Vaughan Williams symphony series under Andrew Manze with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Kirill Karabits' Prokofiev Symphony cycle, Dejan Lazić's exploration of Beethoven's London connections, and the Violin Sonata cycle by James Ehnes and Andrew Armstrong. Additionally, Onyx’s catalog includes recordings from artists such as Midori, Susan Graham, Vadim Repin, Stephen Kovacevich, Augustin Dumay, and Maria Joao Pires.