Theme, Variations and Finale, Opus 13 (1933) was revised as Opus 13a which has been the official version since at least the early 1940s – Leonard Bernstein’s famous 1943 broadcast used it. In fact, few seem to have ever even heard the original until Rumon Gamba's recent Chandos CD by the BBC Philharmonic. It seems highly unlikely that the composer would have approved of a contemporary performance of the earlier version, since he made the cuts himself. Rózsa often made cuts in his concert works after they were premiered and (usually) before they were published. The cuts in Op. 13 are modest (and mostly involve the finale) but his own two recordings – as well as all others until the Chandos – used them. Nevertheless it presents an interesting comparison.|
Theme, Variations and finale op. 13 had its premiere in Duisburg on October 8th, 1934 -- a date that marks the launch of Rozsa's career as a successful composer of orchestral music. Opus 13 is often associated with Charles Munch. The recent Chandos notes even assign the premiere to the Alsatian maestro. In fact, it was Otto Volkmann who led the first performance; Munch followed a week later in Budapest.
The United States premiere was played with Chicago Symphony Orchestra on October 28 1937, under the direction of Hans Lange.
The following description by Andrew Knowles
Following the statement of this theme on solo oboe, the first of eight Variations commences with the theme taken up by flutes, oboes, and clarinets, quickly followed by the strings. The first horn then picks up the theme, accompanied by the strings. The Variation closes quietly in the lower strings.
In Variation II chattering woodwinds are pitted against the strings, with celesta and harp adding additional colouring to the texture. The Variation closes pianissimo in a haze of string harmonics, accompanied by the harp and celesta.
In complete contrast Variation III opens brutally with the theme played fortissimo pizzicato on cellos and basses, loud interjections from the remaining strings punctuated by timpani and bass drum. This mood is countered with a rising lyrical theme which reaches a passionate climax before ending abruptly on three notes drummed out fortissimo.
Variation IV opens gently with a flowing harp ostinato figure over which cellos and basses sing the theme. This leads to a broad, passionate climax in the full strings before calm is restored with the return of the opening harp figuration and the theme stated by a solo flute; the Variation ends peacefully.
Variation V is a mercurial scherzo deftly orchestrated.
Variation VI is a gentle pastorale evoking scenes of the Hungarian puszta; it closes in the eerie quiet of night, magically conveyed by the mysterious haze of pianissimo string harmonics and dappled harp and celesta.
Variation VII opens forcefully with an insistent march rhythm that leads to a syncopated version of the theme, hammered out by woodwind and brass accompanied by swirling strings.
The final Variation opens with an ostinato figure played fortissimo by bassoon, contrabassoon, cellos and basses, punctuated by the timpani and bass drum. This motto figure rises to a climax in which the idea is pounded out brutally by the full orchestra; the Variation closes on a timpani roll. The Finale is ushered in by the violins, playing a folk-like melody derived from the opening Theme. This theme is then passed amongst other instruments before culminating in a massive statement after which we return to the scurrying folk theme. Eventually the music culminates in a passionate statement of the fugal theme, as a chorale, before a quickening of tempo returns us to a fiery statement of the scurrying folk theme. The movement concludes on powerful chords of E flat major before a sudden hurried descent into the blackness of A minor.
The seventh movement of Miklós Rózsa's Theme, Variations and Finale, was used in the Superman TV series in the episodes "The Clown that Cried," "The Golden Vulture," "Jungle Devil," and "The Machine That Could Plot Crimes. Rozsa entousiast Jim Wynorski states "I have the original Rozsa cue used in the Superman TV series. It's on a non-commercial 78rpm 'needle drop' disc issued in 1952 on the Paxton label, a British record company that specialized in backround music for radio, movies and television. Rozsa is given full credit on the label. I don't think anyone ripped him off, as the Paxton label was a very reputable concern and issued many 'score' discs at the time. My favorite use of this cue came when Superman squared off against the mighty white gorilla. The music was(and still is) unforgettable."
A very useful paper was written by Mark Alpizar which researches the Theme Variations and Finale and presents a lot of interesting and useful information for those wishing to perform it.