Variations on both popular and original themes were a kind of “fashion accessory” during the days of Viennese classicism, and Beethoven also made his contribution to this genre; to be sure, financial reasons played a role here, as fashion articles sold well. Yet little by little, the principles and formal layout of the variation form assumed a central meaning for Beethoven. The first volume of the Henle Urtext edition containing Beethoven’s collected piano variations opens with the first work that was published under his name, the “Dressler Variations” WoO 63, written in 1782, and extends to the Variations on a Melody from Peter Winter’s opera Das unterbrochene Opferfest from the year 1799.

Apart from WoO 63 and a further cycle (WoO 65), Beethoven had all of these pieces initially printed in Vienna, but without any opus numbers. Yet they are little masterpieces overflowing with seductive harmonies, rich sonorities, layers of finely elaborated tunes and the sheer enjoyment of cultivated music-making.