Diabelli Machines


Diabelli Machines is a series of performances, lectures, articles, or installations that operate different forms of problematisation of Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations, op. 120. Every single instantiation of this research project questions the original work, cracking it from inside, disclosing its ruptures, and reconfiguring it in a different regime of perception and signification. Beyond historiographical, philological, organological, or sociological investigations, this project aims at creatively, yet rigorously, engaging with the historically available materials related to Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations and its compossible futures.

Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations were composed in two moments: a first draft in 1819, containing twenty-two variations, and the final version in 1823, with thirty-three variations. The new variations were not simply added to the previous ones, they were inserted and interpolated between them. Including many parodies, the new variations and the renewed overall architecture of the piece gave it a quintessential characteristic: a complex game of mirrors and reflections of Beethoven’s inner musical past. Such past included some of his own works, but also, crucially, works from other composers such as Bach, Handel, Mozart, Haydn, and Cramer. With the final version from 1823, the Diabelli Variations became a fabulating time–machine, a musical composition that moves through different times and styles, assimilating, connecting and disconnecting them. But Beethoven’s score also points towards the future, suggesting unprecedented and unforeseeable potential developments for Western art music, some of which will be traceable in works by Brahms, Webern, and Schoenberg. The Diabelli Machines takes this idea of music as “time–machine” further, exposing some of the historical materials related to the original Diabelli Variations, and fostering the generation of new materials that create a transhistorical dialogue between past, present, and future.

So far, the Diabelli Machines have had seven instantiations, including collaborations with the ORCiM-ensemble, the Hermes Ensemble, Ensemble Interface, and ME21 Collective, with seven young composers (Juan Parra, Lucia D’Errico, Tiziano Manca, David Gorton, Hans Roels, Bart Vanhecke, Paolo Galli), with the Swiss choreographer Kurt Dreyer, and a number of special guests, such as Mieko Kanno, Valentin Gloor, and Benjamin Widmer.

See the Diabelli Machines at the Research Catalogue