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The Paganini Variations occupy a special place in Brahms's piano oeuvre. They are, true to their main title, a work for study, but at the same time (in contrast to, for instance, the 51 Exercises) also suited for concert performances. Both aspects were important to Brahms himself, too. When he planned the variations in 1862/63, he was still working on a loose collection of individual exercises Brahms used as finger practice when the pianist prepared for concerts. He eventually reworked this collection of exercises into a "work" in its own right in 1865, repeatedly playing it in concert and publishing it in 1866. The Paganini Variations are also interesting in their double function for contemporary pianists. Anyone studying them is able to marvellously develop his or her piano technique while at the same time working on a very effective piece for concert events. For the first time, all the sources known to us could be used for this new edition, even two early manuscripts that were thought to be lost after 1945 and were rediscovered in St. Petersburg just a few years ago.
Here's another solid and most reliable edition from Wiener Urtext: the Variations themselves (two books of them) are an Everest of Romantic piano music, and players seeking footholds, campsites and climbing-irons should consult the preface for Clara Schumann's famous letter on the piece: the variations she liked most, having mastered them more easily, may be the ones to sample. (…) Both books are here complete, of course, plus some helpful fingerings and a couple of facsimile pages. (…) Music Teacher 05/2008