Continuing our discussion of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, let us examine the first variation.
As I did with the theme, I will first talk about the technical challenges of this excerpt and then look at the musical challenges. First of all, it is very important that you play this excerpt in the exact same tempo that you played the theme. A common mistake is to play this variation much faster than the theme simply because of that long first down bow. One trick that helps is when you finish the theme keep counting the quarter note rests at the end of measure 10, and then count off the two quarter note rests in measure 49. (Almost like you were making a cut!) You can do the same thing at the end of variation one before starting variation 2.
This excerpt is all about legato string crossings and shifts. Avoid the dreaded portato which I know makes it a lot easier to hide the little shifts. And remember that you need a bit of continuous vibrato on each note. Like the theme you will need to practice the different elements individually since there is no way to think about all these things at the same time. Intonation is very important in this excerpt. Make sure that the A flats are low enough as the first finger extensions can tend to be a bit too high. And use the same singing piano sound that you used for the theme.
Musically I like to remind myself that this passage is a variation it is still the melody, so I use the same arch phrase I discussed in the theme. This means that the top of the phrase will be in measure 53. It is also important to avoid making a crescendo in measure 55. A better approach might be to get slightly softer so that the subito forte is better prepared. In this edition (which is the same as the CSO uses) there is a crescendo in measure 57, which is different from measure 8. Most committees will be watching and listening carefully for these nuances.
Stay tuned for the final chapter on variation two!