Variation as the Compositional Principle of Franc Pollini


  • Ivan Klemenčič



Ljubljana-born composer Franc (Francesco) Pollini (1762–1846), later active in Milan, Italy, was that member of Slovenia's musical emigration in the period of classicism who achieved greatest international recognition. Though of little consequence to Europe from developmental and artistic points of view and, understandably, long forgotten nowadays, Pollini made a successful career while he was still alive primarily as a composer of piano pieces that got to be printed in a number of Europe 's musical centres. His European cosmopolitanism and ambitions, both indirectly evidenced by his allegedly taking lessons with Mozart (who supposedly dedicated his rondo for violin and piano to Pollini), by his career as a singer and pianist in many Italy's musical centres, by his acceptance of the post of „professor“ at the conservatory of Milan, as well as by his friendship with Bellini, found a specific expression in his creative production. His early sonatas manifest symptomatic moderation in the developments of sonata movements, or even the replacement of these by variations. This opens a central question of a composer's personality that failed to adopt the principle of thematic work, i.e. the dynamics, individuality and originality in its development, owing to a lack of the right personality traits for it. No wonder Pollini soon gave up sonata to adopt the passive principle of variation closer to his aesthetic views (producing a total of 14 cycles of variations, 9 of which were available for the purpose of this analysis), and, besides writing 4 variation movements in his sonatas, went on to indulge in free variational forms of paraphrasing opera airs (capriccios, phantasies, etc.). These forms best enabled Pollini to cultivate and give stress to melodiousness, cantilena, which he borrowed from the world of opera (also as the author of two operatic pieces and, besides a cantata, a number of lieder) and brought it to its highest in its instrumental execution. Additionally, especially after a year as a teacher (1809) and besides indulging in virtuosity, he would busy himself with the exercise needs of the new pianoforte (Hammerklavier), elaborating them in variation as well. It follows, then, he did not aspire to artistry at its best, devoting himself perhaps to the force of expression by subjecting the partial and secondary to the pure musical idea, with the principle of variation offering him most real opportunities to form and realize himself as a composer. The analysis of his works testified to the above suggested ambitions and abilities of Pollini's, as well as to a sound artistic level with clear musicality and a thorough mastery of the compositional metier. Pollini remains safely within the bounds of the formal type of variation, although proceeding to depart from the exemplary Mozart-type variation to the melodious „dolce“ style of his own. In his search for and adoption of new possibilities of variation, discovering ever new models of it, he will occasionally depart from his fundamental position to switch over to the character type of variation. While maintaining the form (of the same metre and mode, only with the variability of tempo, along with moderate modulation and harmonic elaboration) and the given harmonic scheme, Pollini thus makes variations of the melody-rhythm complex by diminution and, not so often, augmentation. On the other hand, he will partly endeavour to expand his cycles of variations by way of introductions and, above all, added movements, rondos, etc., probably in order to enhance the significance of this form, or even to make compensations for the sonata cycle in this way. In doing this, he sometimes succumbs to the formalism of rather inconsistent introductions or non-functional conclusions which only act as more or less convincing complements to the two central features, namely centilena and the piano-technique complex of problems. In the latter, Pollini is well aware of the greater flexibility and assets of the new pianoforte with hammers, namely dynamics, greater tone compass, and articulation potentials. So, for instance, after Rameau and J. S. Bach and before Liszt (W. Georgii), he was the first to employ some cases of playing one hand into another, or to introduce accompaniment into the same hand as that of the melody, dividing the accompaniment between the two hands in the inner voice. Although remaining on the margin of Europe's musical happenings while at the same time never stooping down to some second-class salon music, Pollini laid the foundations of an undisputed step forward through his use of variation in the decades until the end of 1820's. Mostly thanks to his melodiousness (also under the influence of opera) and perfection of piano technique, he pressed forward to the forthcoming period. Nevertheless, his insistence on the objectivity of expression reveals his predominant position as still ranging from one typical of early to one typical of late classicism.


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How to Cite

Klemenčič, I. (1989). Variation as the Compositional Principle of Franc Pollini. Musicological Annual, 25(1), 41–53.