Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 21 No.1

Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 21 No.1

Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 21 No.1

Johannes Brahms

Marie-Josèphe Jude's masterclass

Produced by the Saline royale Academy French Subtitles are available in French, English, Japanese, Korean Music sheet annotated by  Marie-Josèphe  Jude  is available 46 min. Piano

Marie-Josèph Jude and her student Arthur Gautier work on forming a musical trajectory, understanding the hierarchy of notes, and other pertinent subjects in this lesson for the piano.

Produced by the Saline royale Academy

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The masterclass

About this masterclass

Professor Marie-Josèph Jude and student Arthur Gautier explore Variations on an original theme, opus 21 by Johannes Brahms. 

Jude first advises Gautier to put more emphasis on clarity. She adds that pianists must avoid wanting to play all the notes equally, because it gives a crushing sensation to the piece. Gautier must hierarchize and organize his musical construction better and be more flexible.  

Because it is a long and complex piece, Jude explains that the pianist must pay attention to one’s energy level throughout the variation, and to not “pound” on the fortes. Additionally, Jude notes that the work is expressive in nature, but it needs to feel organic and natural. With this, Gautier must create an interpretation that does not feel forced or contrived.  

Lastly, Jude explains that there is always a bit of space for interpretation with music written in the Romantic era, and that musicians should take this into account. 

What we learn in this masterclass

  1. Finding the right tempo.  

  2. The hierarchy of notes.  

  3. Playing with a trajectory.  

  4. Avoiding playing with too much force. 

  5. Finding the right balance between tempo and hand/finger pressure.

Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 21 No.1 by Johannes Brahms 

Brahms composed his opus 21 Variations on an Original Theme, No. 1 for solo piano in 1857. Though Brahms was an established composer by this time, he was still avoiding publishing works that would place him in direct comparison with Beethoven, such as string quartets or symphonies. Thus, he wrote numerous smaller-scale works, including his beloved themes and variations. His opus 21 consists of two such works; No. 1 was actually written after what is now labeled No. 2, Variations on a Hungarian Song. No. 1 is written in twelve sections, or a theme and eleven accompanying variations. The theme consists of two nine-and-a-half measure phrases, an unusual choice, and is delicate and elegant in character, though it builds in intensity. The following variations explore a broad array of moods, harmonies, dynamics, tempi, and technical difficulties. Each variation offers the audience something unique and new, making the work a riveting listen. 

  • Date:11 February 2022
  • Producer: Produced by the Saline royale Academy
  • Duration:46 min.
  • Spoken language:French
  • Subtitle languages: French, English, Japanese, Korean

Sheet music

Aim for excellence! You can improve your skills with expert advice. Download the annotated sheet music of this piano masterclass. Please note that this piece has been annotated in accordance to Marie-Josèph Jude’s feedback and comments.

Sheet music variations on an original theme, op. 21 no.1

Marie-Josèphe Jude

Marie-Josèphe  Jude

She was a finalist at the Clara Haskil Competition in 1989.

Marie-Josèphe Jude was born in Nice in 1968 from a French father and a sino-Vietnamese mother. She started to learn piano and harp in her home city before joining the Conservatoire de Paris, encouraged by G. Cziffra. She worked with Aldo Ciccolini (piano) and Jean Hubeau (chamber music), and was awarded a First Prize in piano and a concert license in harp at the Ecole Normale in Paris. She attended the third cycle in Jean-Claude Pennetier’s class. At that time, she regularly attended Maria Curcio-Diamand’s lessons in London.  In 1986, she met the composer Maurice  Ohana and became one of her favorite performers.  She was a finalist at the Clara Haskil Competition in 1989, and won the Victoire de la Musique in the category "New Talent" in 1995.

This is when her career developed internationally. She has appeared in concert halls and festivals all over the world, from Montpellier to Bath, from the Roque d’Anthéron to Kuhmo, from Bagatelle to Locarno, from Colmar to Québec, from Nantes to Tokyo, and so on. 

She has played as a soloist under the baton of Frans Brüggen and Charles Dutoit, Emmanuel Krivine, François-Xavier Roth, Jean-Yves Ossonce, Arturo Tamayo, Klaus Weise, with orchestras such as the Orchestre de Paris, the Nice Philharmonic Orchestra, the National Orchestra of Bordeaux, the Orchestre National d’ïle de France, les Siècles, the BBC Scottish Orchestra, Basel Symphonic Orchestra, Philharmonic Orchestra of Luxembourg, the Brussels Philharmonic, and the MDR in Leipzig.

After 4 years of teaching at the Conservatoire National Supérieur in Lyon (2012-2016), she is now a teacher at the CNSM in Paris. In October 2017, she was appointed President of the Nice International Summer Academy.


Johannes  Brahms

Born in Hamburg, Germany on May 7, 1833, Johannes Brahms was the son of musician Johann Jakob Brahms. Johannes Brahms began his musical education learning the piano, cello, and horn. From the age of 7-years-old, he studied the piano under Otto Friedrich Willibald Cossel.

Composer, pianist, and conductor, Brahms began his career at the end of the classical tradition (approx. 1730-1820) and established himself as a central figure in classical music’s Romantic era. His first concert tour took place in 1853 where he built a deep camaraderie with fellow musician, Robert Schumann.

His first major work presented to the public was Concerto No. 1 for piano and orchestra in D minor, which was performed by himself in Leipzig in 1859. In 1863, he moved to Vienna, where he was appointed conductor of Singakademie (Singing academy), which he would leave only a year later.

By 1868, Brahms achieved fame throughout Europe for the premiere of his renowned work German Requiem. Other notable works by Brahms include but are not limited to: Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, op. 15, Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel, op. 24, Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor, op. 25, Cello Sonata No. 1 in E minor, op. 38 Symphony No. 1 in C minor, op. 68, Violin Concerto in D major, op. 77 Symphony No. 3 in F major, op. 78 Symphony No. 4 in E minor, op. 98, and Cello Sonata No. 2 in F major, op. 99 Quintet with Clarinet in B minor, Op. 115. Brahms has been lauded for his deep understanding of formal construction and his rendering of melodic richness, harmonic complexity, and his mastery to achieve a myriad of moods and atmosphere.

Johannes Brahms passed away on April 3,1897, in Vienna.

Photo credit: Fritz Luckhardt

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