Program 4
"The Tune that Drove Composers Wild: Part 2"

MUSIC: Paganini's 24th Caprice [Telarc CD-80398, Band 24] [UP THEN UNDER]

This is Niccolo Paganini's Caprice No. 24 for solo violin. I call it the tune that drove composers wild. That's because it seems that every composer and his brother wrote variations on this theme, from Liszt through Andrew Lloyd Webber.

In Part 1 of this two-part exploration of these Paganini variations, I presented the variations by Liszt, Brahms, Szymanowski and Rachmaninov. In this hour I'll bring you works by Boris Blacher, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Witold Lutoslawski. I think you'll find all of these pieces great fun to listen to. They're rhythmic, tuneful and even humorous. They're modern, 20th Century compositions, but they're all very accessible.

MUSIC: [fades out under:]

Welcome to Compact Discoveries. I'm your guide, Fred Flaxman.

If you've never heard of Boris Blacher before, join the club. I hadn't heard of him either, before I started doing the research for this program.

He was born in China in 1903, the son of a Russo-Asian bank executive from Estonia. He never lived in one place for very long and grew up surrounded by a mixture of Russian, English, German, Italian and Chinese. He was in Siberia when the Russian Revolution broke out. He received his formative music education in Manchuria. In 1922 he enrolled as a music student in Berlin, where for many years he made a living from arrangements of popular and film music. Blacher was principal of the College of Music in West Berlin from 1953 to 1970, and he died in 1975.

Blacher's most successful orchestral work is his highly rhythmic Paganini Variations, Op. 26. It premiered among the war ruins of Leipzig in 1947. It runs a bit over 14 minutes in this digitally remastered Berlin Classics recording by the Dresden Philharmonic conducted by Herbert Kegel. [1:59]

MUSIC: Paganini Variations, Op. 26 by Boris Blacher [Berlin Classics 0090152BC] [16:22]

Boris Blacher's Orchestral Variations on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 26. The Dresden Philharmonic was conducted by Herbert Kegel in this Berlin Classics compact disc recording. The composition dates from 1947.

We skip now another 30 years, to 1977, the year of the premiere of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Variations on the very same theme by Paganini. On May 17 of that year Andrew Lloyd Webber lost a bet to his cello-playing brother Julian. As a result he had to write a piece for cello and rock band for his brother. And that's how this piece came into the world.

Andrew Lloyd Webber's Variations were first performed in this version by Julian Lloyd Webber and four rock musicians at a festival in August 1977. After that concert the work was recorded with the participation of three additional musicians. Next these variations became the "Dance" half of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Song and Dance, which played over 750 performances at the Palace Theatre in London before its transfer to Broadway in 1985.

The version we shall hear now was orchestrated by David Cullen at Andrew Lloyd Webber's request and with the composer's active particiation. It also dates from 1985 when it premiered first in London, then in Minneapolis. I don't have time to play the entire 36 minute composition, unfortunately, but you'll hear 26 minutes of my favorite parts. Julian Lloyd Webber is the cellist with the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Lorin Maazel. This is a Philips recording. And I hope that for you this work, with all its humor and hidden musical quotes, is a compact discovery.[18:12]

MUSIC: Variations by Andrew Lloyd Webber [Phillips 420 342-2, Bands 1-9, 16, 18-20. 22-23] [44:00]

He composed such Broadway hits as Cats and Phantom of the Opera. But he was as taken by a melody of Paganini as were Liszt, Brahms and Rachmaninov. That was Andrew Lloyd Webber's Variations. Brother Julian Lloyd Webber was the cellist. The London Philharmonic Orchestra was conducted by Lorin Maazel.

There was plenty of humor in that piece, right up to its very end. I hope you enjoyed it. And speaking of humor, our final selection, the late Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski's Paganini Variations, sometimes seems to be a parody of all the variations on the Paganini theme which preceded it. As such this 1978 composition - the most recent of the Paganini variations I am presenting in this two-part program - is a fitting piece with which to bring "The Tune That Drove Composers Wild" to an end. In this Naxos CD Antoni Wit conducts the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra. The pianist is Bernd Glemser.

MUSIC: Paganini Variations by Witold Lutoslawski [Naxos 8.556692 or Naxos 8.553423] [54:44]

That was Lutoslawski's' Paganini Variations as performed by pianist Bernd Glemser with the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Antoni Wit. And that concludes our retrospective of outstanding music inspired by Nicolo Paganini's 24th Caprice. I called this two-part, two-hour program "The Tune that Drove Composers Wild."

MUSIC: Paganini's 24th Caprice [Telarc CD-80398, Band 24] under:

Your reaction to these Compact Discoveries programs would be greatly appreciated. Write the old-fashioned way in care of this station, or e-mail me at That's all one word with no spaces, capitals, hyphens or dashes:

Compact Discoveries is made possible by the members of WXEL-FM and the financial support of Barry and Florence Friedberg, Maurice and Thelma Steingold and an anonymous donor. The program was written and produced by your guide, Fred Flaxman, and is a production of WXEL-FM, West Palm Beach, Florida.

  2009 Compact Discoveries