Symphonic Variations for Piano and Orchestra
by César Franck
Emil Gilels, piano
Radio Symphony Orchestra of the USSR
Karl Eliasberg, conductor
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Symphonic Variations (Variations symphoniques), M. 46, is a work for piano and orchestra written in 1885 by César Franck. It has been described as “one of Franck’s tightest and most finished works”, “a superb blending of piano and orchestra”, and “a flawless work and as near perfection as a human composer can hope to get in a work of this nature”. It is a fine example of Franck’s use of cyclic unity, with one theme growing into various others. The piano and orchestra share equally in the continuous evolution of ideas. The work is in F-sharp minor (with the last movement in F-sharp major). Duration in performance is about fifteen minutes, and the instrumentation is piano solo and orchestra: pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, and bassoons; four horns; two trumpets; timpani; and strings.
The work was dedicated to Louis Diémer, who on 15 March 1885 had premiered Les Djinns – a symphonic poem for piano and orchestra that brought Franck one of his rare critical successes. He promised to reward Diémer with “a little something”, and the similarly scored Symphonic Variations was the result. Franck started work in the summer of 1885, and completed the piece on 12 December.
Ralph Vaughan Williams‘s Fantasia (quasi variazione) on the Old 104th Psalm Tune for piano, chorus, and orchestra (1949) has some similarities to the Symphonic variations, but it lacks Franck’s adherence to classical variation form.