About this work
This was Chopin's first work in the piano and orchestra genre, a realm he was uncomfortable with from the beginning and one he would abandon in 1834, when he appended his Andante Spianato to the Grande Polonaise (1831), which actually involved little additional orchestral writing. What can generally be said about the composer's works for piano and orchestra -- this Op. 2 effort included -- is that the piano captures attention with its beauties and colors and originality, while the orchestra is cast in a mostly humdrum accompanimental role.
In this composition, Chopin does not use his variations to look beyond the emotions in the duet between Zerlina and Don Giovanni, thus eschewing suggestions, for example, of the latter's descent into hell, and avoiding expression of other extreme elements in the opera, as well. He chooses to simply focus on the innocence and romance in the duet. The work begins with an introduction based on fragments of the famous "La ci darem la mano" theme. This first section is marked Largo -- Poco piu mosso, and has a rather stately air about it. There follows a rather straightforward rendering of the theme by the piano, with minimal playing by the orchestra except near the end when it takes up the theme. The exuberant first variation, marked Brilliante, is given next. It lasts but a minute, like most that follow, but is not short on color or energy or high spirits. The second variation, marked Veloce, ma accuratamente, is even more energetic, starting like a shot out of a gun on the keyboard, with the orchestra eventually entering to offer another view of the theme and serving to slacken the breathless pace of the music. The next variation, marked Sempre sostenuto, is more relaxed, though still brimming with energy and high spirits. Variation No. 4, Con bravura, presses ahead once more, and also maintains the bright mood. The string of short variations here -- Nos. 1 through 4 -- finally comes to an end with the last section, marked Adagio -- alla polacca, which is nearly as long as the Introduction and first four variations combined. It begins in a somber mood, but does not quite jettison the playful remnants spilling over from the previous sections. The first part is lovely and elegant, Chopin not yet finding the romance and passion in his style that would later permeate so much of his music. The latter half of this section finds the mood buoyant once again, but with the piano also turning on the fireworks.
This is a fine early work by Chopin and is often recorded and played in concert. A typical performance lasts from 17 to 19 minutes.