Chopin – Variations for Piano and Orchestra on “Là ci darem la mano” from Don Giovanni, Op. 2

by Max Derrickson

Frédéric Chopin
(Born near Warsaw, Poland in 1810; died in Paris in 1849)

Variations for Piano and Orchestra on “Là ci darem la mano” from Don Giovanni, Op. 2

  1. Introduction – Largo
  2. Theme – Allegretto
  3. Variation 1: Brillante
  4. Variation 2: Veloce, ma accuratamente
  5. Variation 3: Sempre sostenuto
  6. Variation 4: Con bravura
  7. Variation 5: Adagio; Coda: Alla Polacca


By the age of 14 Chopin was already being regarded as a piano virtuoso while stirring up interest with his composing.  By 17 the young musical giant was ready to take on the world in both roles, beginning with his Variations, Là ci darem la mano, Op. 2 (1827).  This piece was immediately hailed as a great work and it was surely prescient of Chopin’s genius for musical and psychological insight.  Hearing the magical craft of the virtuoso pianist in the Variations is obvious and thrilling, but to understand its compositional soulfulness, one must first turn to the source of Mozart’s theme from which Chopin crafted his variations.

“Là ci darem la mano” comes from Don Giovanni (1787), which is considered by many to be Mozart’s greatest work, and which had by the 1820’s become one of Europe’s best loved operas and hailed as “divinely inspired.”  So it also was in Chopin’s Warsaw.  Mozart’s story of Don Juan, the lover of life, the irreverent ruffian, resonated deeply with a Europe that was equal parts sternly religious and intensely pursuing Enlightenment philosophy.  Don Giovanni as both opera and character met all the criteria: despite the Don’s irreverence and ultimate descent into hell, Giovanni was human – with foibles and tenderness [. . .] that is as musically frightening as any in all of the repertoire, as the ghost of the Commendatore comes to drag Giovanni down to hell.

Chopin was neither the first, nor the last, to set the song to a set of variations.  Beethoven used it twice and both Berlioz [. . .]  When the “Là ci darem” tune finally arrives outright, it has been stripped of everything but its simple melody and basic harmonic accompaniment, light-hearted in its way, but double-edged [. . .] – the pathos he imbues into it with just a few short minutes of music is rather astounding, especially given his young age.

The Variations then progress with increasing vigor, as they should, for this was also a showpiece for the prowess of the young giant [. . .]  Adagio – alla Polacca (Polonaise), where the orchestra returns with the heavy hand of fate for Giovanni, and Giovanni replies, in turn, with pianistic       [. . .] – a dance macabre to taunt the devil.

Chopin’s Variations made a big impact on the music world immediately upon their premiere in 1827.  [. . .] “Hats off, gentlemen! A genius!”  And rightly so.