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La Folia

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach 12 Variations über die Folie d'Espagne, H.263.

Ludwig van Beethoven 32 Variations in C minor, WoO 80.

Franz Liszt Rhapsodie espagnole, S.254, R.90.

Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninoff Variations on a Theme of Corelli, Op.42.

Alessandro Scarlatti La Folia.

With this programme, I aim to explore and discover the evolution of the Folia theme in the keyboard repertoire through the centuries.


The earliest example of the Folia dates from the fifteenth century. All compositions from this programme are written in the variation genre, with the programme aiming to start and finish at the Baroque era, and with something in the manner of a question mark in the programme’s last chord.


The 12 Variations über die Folie d'Espagne, H.263 by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach require knowledge of ornamentation which may be added in to the text, as well as improvisation and basso continuo harmonisation. This music was composed for the harpsichord, and the text of the score itself is blank with very few notation marks. Personally, I find interest in animating this music by the imitation of the harpsichord’s sound on the piano, improvising basso continuo and adding ornamentation.


The 32 Variations in C minor, WoO 80 by Ludwig van Beethoven is one of the most popular works in the piano repertoire. I have included this piece in the Folia programme because the theme from the 32 Variations reflects the possible influence of the Folia, according to musicologist Solomon Maynard.


The Rhapsodie espagnole, S.254, R.90 by Franz Liszt, written and titled in the genre of Rhapsody, however includes free variation on the Folia theme. The piece itself was inspired by Liszt's tour in Spain and Portugal in 1845, and could form the middle of an ideological bridge between the beginning and the end of the Folia programme.


The Variations on a Theme of Corelli Op. 42 by Sergei Rachmaninoff was written in 1931 on the Folia theme. Two compositions by Rachmaninoff, Variations on a Theme of Corelli Op. 42 and Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43, have a similar variation form structure like twins; however, the crucial difference between them is the presence of the orchestra. The critical approach of Rachmaninoff to his compositions is discussed in my programme on the Sonatas, and unlike his Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43 the Variations did not have an easy reception following their composition. Today this music is well respected by reason of its high intellectual, as well as spiritual, integrity; however, the best way to describe Rachmaninoff’s criticism of the work is in the composer’s own words, as found in his letter to his close friend Nikolai Medtner:


‘I've played the Variations about fifteen times, but of these fifteen performances only one was good. The others were sloppy. I can't play my own compositions! And it's so boring! Not once have I played these all in continuity. I was guided by the coughing of the audience. Whenever the coughing would increase, I would skip the next variation. Whenever there was no coughing, I would play them in proper order. In one concert, I don't remember where - some small town - the coughing was so violent that I played only ten variations (out of 20). My best record was set in New York, where I played 18 variations. However, I hope that you will play all of them, and won't "cough".’



Alessandro Gaspare Scarlatti’s Folia Variations were chosen to finish this programme for the reason that they unite the beginning and the end of this programme in the baroque style. Also, this is a very curious and unusual composition for the listener in the twenty-first century. This variations requires the same knowledge of baroque interpretation style as the 12 Variations über die Folie d'Espagne, H.263 by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. The most interesting aspect of this variations is the harmonic function progression which ends on the unresolved dominant function chord. As far as the listener can hear the tonic function resolution at the end, everybody understands that this is the end of the piece or variation. However, the unresolved dominant function at the end of each variation motivates us to think about music, that it will continue. The final unresolved dominant chord in this music says to the listener ‘to be continued…’, as well as forming an endless circular bridge to the beginning of the complete programme.

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