Saturday, January 9, 2010

Video: Mozart--Variations

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote these twelve variations on the melody from a popular French children's song called Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman. The title translates roughly to "Well, let me tell you mother...". The words to the song catalog the grievances a young girl has with her parents, such as putting too much emphasis on lessons and not enough on candy. The exact same melody is also used in at least three English children's songs, too. Namely, Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, Bah, Bah, Black Sheep, and the Alphabet Song ("Now I know my ABCs").

My history with the piece is kind of spotty. The score was always nearby when I was growing up, and I would often mess around with it, but I never had any interest in really learning it. Then last Spring when Steinway Guy asked me to play in his students' recital, it seemed like the perfect fit. So I worked up eight of the variations for that performance. Having that much of it under my belt, it was easy to add the remaining four variations for my ConcART-II program. I don't imagine I'll continue to play the piece much, but Johanne suggested that it would be a good idea to videotape it before it starts to degrade.

So here we are.

On the video... I'm still working on the process, trying to improve lighting, video quality, production values, etc. This is my first attempt compositing video from more than one camera angle. And the audio bugs me on this one. It's too harsh... not warm enough. Part of that is the piano. It's brightened considerably over the last year and a half. I had Gary the Piano Tech bring down the voicing a little, but it needs more for my tastes. I think I'll do more experimenting next time with mic position and maybe fool around with more eq/filtering during mixing.

One last comment: listening to some other videos of this piece on YouTube, I notice a few differences in arrangement. Most people don't tie those notes over the bar line in variation I. And there even seem to be some differences in notes in the right hand B section of variation III. I wonder if these are actual differences in the different editions of the score. I used the International, but I know there are several other publishers, too. I'll have to check it out at the library.

Mozart: Variations on "Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman" from Ken Barker on Vimeo.


  1. Really well done, Kenneth!

    I would take Johanne's advice (opinion) one step further. This piece is a lot of fun for an audience, particularly, I suppose, for those of us who are not trained musicians. I have seen the delight on the faces of both kids and adults when Betty Jo has played this one and the variations on the "Happy Birthday" piece. I think audiences need this kind of break in an otherwise very serious concert. It also shows in a simple way the genius of the composer. Imagine coming up with twelve such different variations of anything. For me, this would be a most entertaining permanent (or maybe semi-permanent, that is, keep it familiar enough to work it up to performance level in a week or so) piece for my repertoire.
    I enjoyed it.

  2. Ditto to what Bob has written, Kenneth. For me, this familiar tune played in so many different ways is wonderfully entertaining. Not only do I see the composer as clever but I hear a performing artist giving new life and lively expression to music that makes me happy. At least, never let it "degrade" so much that you couldn't play it on request at an informal gathering like a family reunion.