About this work
Max Reger's Variations on a Theme of Mozart, likely the composer's best-known work, was written at a time when atonality was nascent and Schoenberg's realization of the 12-tone method just a decade in the future. But Reger's sympathies lay resolutely without the avant-garde of his day. While possessed of a strong personality, Reger's musical language is clearly indebted to the music of 100 -- even 200 -- years earlier. Indeed, his aesthetic outlook is suggested by a number of works that take the music of Baroque and Classical masters as their point of departure; in addition to the present work, Reger produced variation sets on themes by Bach, Telemann, Hiller, and Beethoven. Perhaps the most distinctive hallmark of Reger's music is the melding of Bachian polyphony with a highly chromatic harmonic language, resulting in works marked sonic richness and elaborate counterpuntal interplay.
Reger's Mozart Variations were originally written for orchestra. As is the case with a number of his works, he made an arrangement for keyboard; that he calls for two pianos provides some hint of the work's complexity. The theme is the delicate air that opens Mozart's Piano Sonata in A major, K. 331; interestingly, Mozart himself used the theme as the basis for a variation movement, as opposed to a more conventional sonata-allegro. Reger's treatment is characterized by increasing abstraction and transformation. Each of the eight variations is more fantastic and distant from its source than the last, both harmonically and rhythmically; in the last dreamlike variation the theme is often unrecognizable within the thicket of Reger's invention. The work closes with an extended fugue whose connection to the source material is oblique indeed; as though coming into focus, however, Mozart's theme becomes plainly recognizable near the end, albeit now in a much grander guise.