Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Music History Monday: The Guy Who Wrote the “Waltz”

Anton Diabelli (1781-1858)
Anton Diabelli (1781-1858)

We mark the death on April 8, 1858 – 166 years ago today – of the Austrian composer, editor, and music publisher Anton Diabelli in Vienna, at the age of 76.  Born on September 5, 1781, his enduring fame is based on a waltz of his composition that became the basis for Beethoven’s epic Diabelli Variations for piano.

Quick Work

We are, fairly or unfairly, going to make rather quick work of Herr Diabelli.  That’s because, with all due respect, what I really want to write about is Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations.  

There’s a powerful ulterior motive at work here as well.  In a field of great recordings, my numero uno favorite Diabelli Variations is the recording made by the Milan-born Italian pianist Maurizio Pollini in 1998 and released by Deutsche Grammophon in 2000.  Pollini passed away at the age of 82, on March 23, 2024: 16 days ago.  As such, we will honor Maestro Pollini in tomorrow’s Dr. Bob Prescribes even as we celebrate his unequaled performance of Beethoven’s variations.

Anton Diabelli (1781-1858)

Despite his Italian surname, Anton Diabelli was Austrian born-and-bred.  

He was born in Mattsee, a market town just outside of Salzburg.  He was a musical child, and typical of almost every musically talented boy of his time and place (and by “place” we’re referring to Catholic Europe), he was musically schooled as a chorister in a boys’ choir, in Diabelli’s case at the Salzburg Cathedral (where he almost certainly studied composition with Joseph Haydn’s younger brother, Michael Haydn [1737-1806]).  

By the time he was 19 years old – in 1800 – Diabelli had composed a number of large-scale works, including six masses.  It was in that year that Diabelli, who had been trained for the priesthood, was packed off to the monastery at Raitenhaslach, in the southeastern German state of Bavaria. …

Important Programming Note

A scheduling note before I leave you.  I will be in Vienna leading a tour starting on April 13, which – sadly – will preclude me from posting Music History Monday Podcasts on April 15 and 22.  I will, however, be posting daily reports from Vienna on my Patreon site.  I would be remiss, then, if I didn’t invite everyone who is not already a subscribing member to join me at Patreon and partake in the fun

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