About this work
Variation form was one Mozart frequently employed in the solo piano extemporizations for which his concerts were famed (cf. K. 398 and K. 455). The present set is probably Mozart's best known set of variations, the French song on which they are based being familiar in the English-speaking world as the nursery tunes "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" or "Baa-Baa Black Sheep." Traditionally assigned to the disastrous summer of 1778 during which Mozart's mother fell ill and died in Paris during their sojourn in the French capital, the work according to recent research was probably composed in Vienna in either 1781 or 1782. The variations are a perfect example of Mozart's oft-demonstrated ability to build a substantial work from the simplest (and, in this instance, deliberately childish) materials. Particularly noteworthy is the chromatic writing in Variation 8 and the near-tragic tone of the minor mode Variation 9. The work was one of three sets of variations (the others are K. 398 in F and K. 455 in G) published in Vienna by Torricella in 1785.