Theme and Variations
Premiere: June 15, 2015 / Taneycomo Festival / Branson, Missouri / What is Noise
Instrumentation: Flute (doubling Piccolo), Bb Clarinet (doubling Bb Bass Clarinet), Violin, Cello, Piano, Percussion
Commissioned by the What is Noise ensemble in 2014, this piece adheres to the classic variations format, but only to a point. The Theme first appeared in a set for flute, clarinet, cello and piano, titled "Four Little Jokes." True to the original title, what became the Theme for this piece is quirky, snarky, and doesn't take itself seriously (the score marking says: "Misterioso; a little creepy, but well intentioned).
What follows is a more indepth examination of a "variation." In the traditional sense, variations would include shifting the theme from major to minor, simple to compound time, would include some slight rhythmic variations, or go so far as to present the theme in inversion, or retrograde. What I've done, however, is pick apart the entire Theme movement - accompaniment, harmonic progression, countmelodies, rhythmic figures - and have constructed a series of short pieces around each fragment.
Variation I - Graziose. A trio for flute, clarinet and violin based on the clarinet line just before the climax of the Theme.
Variation II - At the ball. For the full ensemble, a sweeping, romantic movement with nervous undertones. Based on the falling major third at the begining of the Theme melody.
Variation III - Like a walk in the park. Duo for Bass Clarinet and Cello. The ostinato in the Theme becomes a walking bass line in this jazz-influenced duet. Both players trade off each other, much like I'd imagine Gerry Mulligan and Stéphane Grapelli would.
Variation IV - Reminiscent. A piano feature with the full ensemble, based on the piano part from the Theme.
Variation V - Perpetuum Mobile. Constant movement for the full ensemble, based on the piccolo part from the Theme.
Variation VI - Blues. Film Noir-esque with a heavy swing for the full ensemble. The piano part at the climax of the Theme becomes the main riff of this movement.
Variation VII - Chorale Prelude. For the full ensemble; the melody of the Theme floats over atmospheric percussion and piano as the ensemble sings (yes, sings) in a "passionate mystical reverence bordering on eroticism."
Variation VII - Finale Coda. Several aspects of the Theme are reprised - still creepy, but now not so well intentioned.
What is Noise