♫ And Beethoven – no fool, he – does not try. Having taken the triplet motion from this ♫ to this ♫ and this ♫ and finally to this, ♫ he now changes course, and exposes this theme to a new type of treatment – just as radical and just as exploratory as the previous one. This change of course, three variations in, is again in line with the op. 109 playbook – in that movement, too, the fourth variation is the moment which brings the ever-increasing motion to a stop, and takes a turn towards the otherworldly. ♫ In op. 111, while the tempo technically remains the same, this fourth variation represents an even more radical departure from what came before it. ♫ So, obviously, the rate of motion is much slower, and having come out of music that covered the whole keyboard, this is now confined to the lower reaches of the instrument: this version of the theme is a distant murmur. But there are other aspects of this fourth variation that are far more arresting. First of all, the bass line, rather than move, giving the theme its harmonic underpinning, ♫ remains a pedal point C throughout. ♫ This gives this variation a feeling of stasis to an even greater degree than the slowed pace of events does. But the greatest and most striking development here is the way in which the theme – totally continuous initially, and in the three subsequent iterations we’ve already heard – is now broken up. What we’re left with is not just a bare-boned version of the theme, in the nether regions of the piano, but one that proceeds note-by-note, with silences in between, each note sounding like a pulsation. ♫ The contrast in momentum – from near-infinite to near-zero – from the previous variation to this one could not be starker. Adding further to the mysterious nature of this music is the notation – and therefore the sound-world Beethoven is imagining – of each of these notes. Rather than notate each as an eighth note, which is, indeed, the full value of each note, Beethoven writes two sixteenth notes, tied together. ♫ You may remember this gambit from the Arioso of the sonata op. 110. ♫ There, I tend to think the notes are meant to be repeated, however faintly; here, I suspect they are not, as there would really be no way to rearticulate a four note chord without disturbing the peace. Still, this notation should have a pronounced effect on the way one plays this variation – it's Beethoven’s way of emphasizing that each note is a living, breathing thing – that no matter how slow this variation is, how divided up its treatment of the theme is, how far-away its register makes it sound, on the inside, it is not just alive: it is glowing. So, in talking about that music as “the variation” – the fourth variation, to be precise – I’ve misled you, slightly. Until now, each variation has consisted of two halves, each repeated. This variation follows that same format… except that rather than a literal repeat, the repetitions are written out – and as different from what preceded them as they possibly could be. ♫ I could point out all of the practical ways in which this “repetition” is different: at the high end of the keyboard, rather than the low end; absolutely continuous motion, rather than filled with pauses; circling around the theme’s notes, rather than hitting them squarely. ♫ But in describing this “repeat”, or non-repeat, I prefer to simply use the term that my great teacher, Leon Fleisher, used to describe it: angel babble. I can’t do better, and I won’t try. This music meanders – it flits about, not quite coherently – but it does so in a divine way. Angel babble.