A Musical Form found mostly in Classical Music in which there is a theme, for which embellished, simplified, complexified, or otherwise altered versions are composed. Generally speaking, it is customary to perform the theme first, followed by the variations, in an order specified by the composer.
Related Classical forms include the Ground Bass form, Passacaglia form, Chaconne formnote , the Fuguenote , and Isorhythmnote , which all predate the Classical-era "Theme and Variations" form (though the idea of having a central "theme" that a piece is built around predates all of them).
Sometimes, an entire soundtrack is built off of this concept: see Theme-and-Variations Soundtrack.
Examples are very common in Classical Music, but here are some notable ones:
- Johann Sebastian Bach: Goldberg Variations. Since Bach was symmetry-obsessed, the original aria is repeated after the last variation.
- Ludwig van Beethoven: Six Variations, 32 Variations in C minor, and Eroica Variations.
- Benjamin Britten: The Young Person's Guide To The Orchestra (subtitled "Variations and Fugue on a theme by Purcell")
- Fryderyk Chopin: Variations on "La ci darem la mano"
- Edward Elgar: Enigma Variations. Unusual in that the theme is not played first, and in fact Elgar refused to tell what it actually is.
- Johannes Brahms: Variations on a Theme by Joseph Haydn
- George Frederic Handel: The Harmonious Blacksmith (video here)
- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Variations on "Ah! Vous dirai-je, Maman" (better known to English-speakers as the tune for Twinkle, twinkle little star.)
- Paganini: Caprice XXIV, one of the most famous virtuosic violin pieces, which Sergei Rachmaninoff famously turned into a Rhapsody for symphony orchestra and piano.