Anton Diabelli

Anton Diabelli
Anton Diabelli, lithograph by Josef Kriehuber

Anton (or Antonio) Diabelli (5 September 1781 – 8 April 1858) was an Austrian music publisher, editor and composer of Italian descent. Best known in his time as a publisher, he is most familiar today as the composer of the waltz on which Ludwig van Beethoven wrote his set of thirty-three Diabelli Variations.[1]


Early life

Diabelli was born in Mattsee near Salzburg. A musical child, he sang in the boys' choir at the Salzburg Cathedral where he is believed to have taken music lessons with Michael Haydn. By age 19, Diabelli had already composed several important compositions, including six masses.

Diabelli was trained to enter the priesthood and in 1800 he joined the monastery at Raitenhaslach, Bavaria.[1] He remained there until 1803 when Bavaria closed all its monasteries.


In 1803 Diabelli moved to Vienna and began teaching piano and guitar and found work as a proofreader for a music publisher. During this period he learned the music publishing business while continuing to compose. In 1809 he composed his comic opera, Adam in der Klemme. In 1817 he started a music publishing business and 1818, partnered with Pietro Cappi to create the music publishing firm of Cappi & Diabelli.

The firm, Cappi & Diabelli became well known by arranging popular pieces so they could be played by amateurs at home. A master of promotion, Diabelli selected widely-accessible music such as famous opera tune arrangements, dance music, or hundreds of the latest popular comic theater songs

The firm soon established a reputation in more serious music circles by championing the works of Franz Schubert. It was Diabelli who first recognized the composer's potential, become the very first to publish Schubert's work with Der Erlkönig in 1821. Diabelli's firm continued to publish Schubert's work until 1823 when an argument between Cappi and Schubert terminated their business. The following year, Diabelli and Cappi parted ways, with Diabelli launching a new publishing house, Diabelli & Co, in 1824.

Following Schubert's early death in 1828, Diabelli purchased a large portion of the composer's massive musical estate from Schubert's brother Ferdinand. As Schubert's total compositions number nearly 1000, Diabelli's firm was able to publish "new" Schubert works for more than 30 years after the composer's death.

Diabelli's publishing house expanded throughout his life, before he retired in 1851, leaving it under the control of Carl Anton Spina. When Diabelli died in 1858, Spina continued to run the firm, and published much music by Johann Strauss II and Josef Strauss. In 1872, the firm was taken over by Friedrich Schreiber, and in 1876 it merged with the firm of August Cranz, who bought the company in 1879 and ran it under his name.

He died in Vienna at the age of 76.


Diabelli produced a number of works as a composer, including an operetta called Adam in der Klemme, several masses and songs and numerous piano and classical guitar pieces. Among these are pieces for piano four hands that are popular among amateur pianists.

Diabelli's composition Pleasures of Youth: Six Sonatinas is a collection of six sonatinas depicting a struggle between unknown opposing forces. This is suggested by the sharp and frequent change in dynamics from forte to piano. When forte is indicated, the pianist is meant to evoke a sense of wickedness, thus depicting the antagonist. In contrast, the markings of piano represent the protagonist with its softer, more tranquil tones.

Diabelli Variations

The composition for which Diabelli is now best known was actually written as part of an adventuring story. In 1819, as a promotional idea, he decided to try to publish a volume of variations on a "patriotic" waltz he had penned expressly for this purpose, with one variation by every important Austrian composer living at the time, as well as several significant non-Austrians. The combined contributions would be published in an anthology called Vaterländischer Künstlerverein. Fifty-one composers responded with pieces, including Beethoven, Schubert, Carl Czerny, Johann Nepomuk Hummel, Ignaz Moscheles, and the eight-year-old Franz Liszt (although it seems Liszt was not invited personally, but his teacher Czerny arranged for him to be involved). Czerny was also enlisted to write a coda. Beethoven, however, instead of providing just one variation, provided 33, and his formed Part I of Vaterländischer Künstlerverein. They constitute what is generally regarded as one of the greatest of Beethoven's piano pieces and as the greatest set of variations of their time, and are generally known simply as the Diabelli Variations, Op. 120. The other 50 variations were published as Part II of Vaterländischer Künstlerverein.

Cultural references

A sonatina of Diabelli's, presumably Sonatina in F major, Op. 168, No. 1 (I: Moderato cantabile), provides the title and a motif for the French novella Moderato Cantabile by Marguerite Duras.

See also



External links


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