Guest artist Marshall presents Beethoven’s ‘Diabelli Variations’

Eldred Marshall
Eldred Marshall

Guest artist Marshall presents Beethoven’s ‘Diabelli Variations’

calendar icon09 Jan 2023    user iconBy Kathe C. Andersen

Lincoln, Neb.--Glenn Korff School of Music guest artist Eldred Marshall, piano, will present a solo recital on Wednesday, Jan. 25 at 7:30 p.m. in Westbrook Recital Hall Rm. 119. The concert is free and open to the public.

Marshall’s program is titled “Beethoven’s Costume Party—The Diabelli Variations” and features Ludwig van Beethoven’s monumental “Diabelli Variations.” 

“I’ve known Eldred Marshall for over 15 years and have always been impressed with his deep musicianship and scholarship,” said Paul Barnes, the Marguerite Scribante Professor of Piano in the Glenn Korff School of Music. “I’m thrilled that he will be performing his Diabelli recital here in Lincoln. Dr. Marshall is exactly the type of artist that I want my students to experience during their time here at the Glenn Korff School of Music.”

Marshall says Beethoven’s “Diabelli Variations” is often misunderstood by both audiences and musicians.

“We don’t think of Beethoven as light-hearted, comedic or fun. We think of him as monumental, serious and dour. And this is partly Beethoven’s own fault. The music for which he is known best doesn’t laugh, and the amount of ‘funny’ works is miniscule,” Marshall said. “To me, Beethoven’s ‘Diabelli Variations’ is an imaginary costume party, in which all of Beethoven’s friends, enemies, lovers and past influencers like Bach and Handel, and contemporary competitors all show up. Beethoven draws them in a sloppy musical caricature that is truly Beethoven’s own. As Beethoven’s musical humor is dated, one shouldn’t expect laughter during the performance. However, one can expect to smile while also going on an incredible emotional journey.”

The program also includes Austin Simonds’ “Aurora Winter” and Bach’s French Overture in B minor, BWV 831.

“Serving as a prelude to the ‘Diabelli Variations’ are two works that center on the ‘B’ key center,” Marshall said. “This is critical as the Diabelli is all about ‘C,’ the neighboring pitch. Austin Simonds, a young pianist-composer who trained under Augusta Read Thomas at the University of Chicago, wrote for me a piano work that captures our zeitgeist called ‘Aurora Winter.’ I was to learn it, tour it, and record it in 2020 per our commission contract. Alas, now I get to premiere it. Before intermission, audiences should expect to put on their dance shoes and dance among the French nobility in Bach's French Overture in B minor. I chose this work not just for the ‘B’ tonality, rather because it captures a world that strongly influenced Beethoven’s patrons and the Austrian courts that Beethoven deftly parodies in the ‘Diabelli Variations.’”

Marshall said none of these pieces are staples in the concert hall.

“The Simonds has only been performed once before—by the composer himself at a conference in Hong Kong,” Marshall said. “The French Overture, which is part of the Clavierübung II series, is overshadowed by the far more popular Italian Concerto. Yet this work is one of Bach's grandest suites of music, filled with many moments of incandescent beauty. Beethoven’s ‘Diabelli Variations’ is often recorded but rarely performed in front of a live audience, as it is treacherously difficult. But it is a thrilling work.”

Marshall began studying the piano at age six and played in public by age seven. His prodigious and inquisitive mind allowed him to master large swaths of the piano repertoire quickly, as well as consistently win top prizes in the competitions he entered as a child. By age 16, he debuted with the Victor Valley Symphony Orchestra, playing Brahm’s Piano Concerto no. 2 in B-flat Major. Before entering into Yale University, where he graduated with honors with a B.A. in political science, he had already performed all over the U.S.

He earned his Doctor of Musical Arts in piano performance from the University of North Texas in 2018. Additionally, he earned three Master of Music degrees from Southern Methodist University in piano (2011), organ (2012) and orchestral conducting (2013). 

The critically acclaimed pianist has performed internationally in Spain, Italy, the Republic of San Marino, Belgium, Germany, Romania, Bulgaria, the Ukraine, the People’s Republic of China and Canada. He has performed the entire cycle of 32 Piano Sonatas of Beethoven in public, from memory, as a concentrated series twice, once in Portland in 2007 and in San Francisco in 2008. In the 2021-2022 season, he performed a tour of Beethoven’s “Diabelli Variations.”

He presently serves as the artist-in-residence/associate director of music at the First United Methodist Church of Garland, where he is the founder and curator of the West Avenue B Community Concert Series. Additionally, he is the artistic director/conductor of the Mansfield Philharmonic Orchestra and the music director/conductor of the Music Ministry Conservatory Choir.