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Brahms Variations on a Theme by Haydn is an absolutely outstanding set of variations which I love to study. You can pick up a lot of tips on orchestration from it. Also it is very good for beginning conductors (i.e. me) to work with. Has anyone else heard or studied it?

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Yes, I have heard of it and listened to it. To be honest, I don't like the variations, but the theme is wonderful. . . I am sorry to say, but I don't like Brahms. The question I have been trying to answer for more than a year is why.

Brahms' music sounds unnatural to me, although I realize how talented he was. I have the same with R. Schumann. Maybe it's the fact that the music still sounds classical, but both composers are experimenting with the forms and rules stated in the classicism.

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You need to be good at conducting subdivisions without much thought. This piece will test your ability to emote while moving frequently between rigid time and fluidity. i haven't conducted this piece, but a look at the score makes it a decent candidate for beginners, with the exception of a few variations.
That said, I don't really like the piece all that much (or Brahms a lot, in general), but its merit is, in my opinion, definitely not orchestration, but rather motivic manipulation. Just my two cents, though.

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Variation Number 5 is tricky to conduct, as well as number 8. And I understand why ya'll aren't you huge fans. I wasn't either at first. The Finale - last variation- is my favorite part.

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