Thursday, February 22 , 2018, 8:44 pm | Fair 49º


Gerald Carpenter: Paul Berkowitz to Play ‘The Greatest of all Piano Works’

The Santa Barbara Music Club's next free concert will feel, to most of those attending, like a great event: UCSB Professor Paul Berkowitz — a maestro in every sense of that over-used word — will perform in its entirety Ludwig van Beethoven’s set of 33 Variations for Piano on a Waltz by Diabelli, Opus 120 (1819-1823), known as the "Diabelli Variations."

The free concert begins at 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 10, in the Faulkner Gallery of the downtown Library (40 E Anapamu St). 

The story of the genesis of the Diabelli Variations has its amusing aspects, but it is too well known to make it worth repeating once more (in any case, Professor Berkowitz's colleague, Betty Oberacker, tells the story very well in the program notes for this concert).

Besides, nothing that is said about a composition — or any work of art — will illuminate it for you; only your sensory experience of it can do that.

The only interpretation of the Variations relevant to this concert will be that which travels from Paul Berkowitz's brain through his fingers and feet to the keys and pedals.

You may have heard that the Diabelli Variations are "difficult," and so they are — for the pianist. For the audience, they are a magic carpet of musical imagination.

Beethoven's invention never falters, and not just in a technical sense. Unlike Bach's ubiquitous Goldberg Variations, to which the Diabelli are frequently yoked by musicologists, the individual variations are never impersonally brilliant; each bears the stamp not just of Beethoven's peerless art, but of his turbulent, majestic emotional life as well.

"No one who truly understands my music," he once said, "can ever know unhappiness again."

Since Beethoven said it, I am forced to admit it may be true, even though it suggests that I do not truly understand his music. Still, I understand it well enough to be perfectly happy when I'm listening to it. 

Professor Berkowitz will perform the Diabelli Variations a second time at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 23, in UCSB's Lotte Lehmann Concert Hall.

I shall have more to say about this as that date approaches, but at this later recital, only UCSB students and children under 12 will be admitted free.

Adults will have to fork over the exorbitant fee of $10, while non-UCSB students will have to come up with $5.

You will also have the opportunity to buttonhole Professor Berkowitz at a pre-concert reception (7–7:25 p.m. in the UCSB Music Building courtyard). Tickets may be purchased by phone at 805.893.2064, or online at

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributing writer. He can be reached at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are his own.

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