Author Topic: Variations form  (Read 1935 times)

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Fergus

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Variations form
« on: May 20, 2016, 08:31:22 AM »
I have a question about the form of theme and variations exercises.

You present an existing theme--which is of the verse-chorus type. For example, a traditional folk song. When writing the variations, must they also follow the verse-chorus format, or can they be completely different in form? How far can one stray, but still be within the realm of variations?

Thanks you,
Fergus

gogreen

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Re: Variations form
« Reply #1 on: May 20, 2016, 12:26:41 PM »
Themes and their variations should, well, vary. I'd make them attractively different, without fear of straying. But I wouldn't progress so far away that you lose the "gist" of the original theme. One of my favorite examples of theme and variations is the 4th movement to the Brahms Fourth Symphony.

Michel.R.E

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Re: Variations form
« Reply #2 on: May 20, 2016, 12:39:39 PM »
I'll disagree slightly with Art. I think variations can stray quite far from the original thematic material.

Variations can be built upon multiple elements:
  • the actual melody set differently multiple times
  • the underlying harmony of the original theme used as a basis for new invention
  • motivic fragments of the original theme developed independently
  • inversion of thematic elements (ie: retrogrades, mirrors, etc...)

Rachmaninov's "Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini" uses all of the above, for example. There are multiple moments in the 24 variations where the actual Paganini theme seems almost entirely absent, it has been stretched so far from its original form.

Sets of variations can use a classical structure: contrasting fast and slow variations.
They can be progressive: moving from very clear statements to progressively more distant relations.
In the "classical" set of variations there is always at least one variation which is a modal shift from the rest of the set. ie: if the set of variations are on a minor theme, then at least one variation is set in major, and vice-versa.

Some non-variation forms (officially) are in fact nothing more than sets of variations. This is often the case with passacaglias.

personally, I used a theme and set of variations as the entire structure for my cello concertino. The theme is made of two elements, then the subsequent variations encompass the development of the "sonata allegro" 1st movement, the scherzo, the adagio, and the final rondo.
Lutoslawski's Concerto for Orchestra uses a passacaglia/variations as its final movement, if memory serves me.
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Fergus

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Re: Variations form
« Reply #3 on: May 20, 2016, 04:26:48 PM »
In other words, when doing variations on a folk song in verse-chorus format, it is okay to ignore the format and use whatever form one wishes. So, for example, if one were working with Greensleeves, one could completely disregard the form of the original and write, say, a fugue based on a fragment of the original melody?

Michel.R.E

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Re: Variations form
« Reply #4 on: May 20, 2016, 05:08:20 PM »
It's a variation ;)
it's entirely up to you.
"Writing music to be revolutionary is like cooking to be famous: Music’s main function is not revolution. – Alan Belkin "

"Saying something new about something old is still saying something new. – Jamie Kowalski"

winknotes

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Re: Variations form
« Reply #5 on: May 24, 2016, 08:12:31 AM »
Compare these variations for some more food for thought. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ScC-4On71hw

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c33q87s03h4  (with a little history)

Interesting that this topic has come up because for about 2 months now I've been listening to Enigma Variations almost daily thinking I may start writing a theme and variations piece myself.  I've had such a long dry spell due to lack of time and inspiration that this might be a good way to get things flowing again. 
« Last Edit: May 24, 2016, 09:49:35 AM by winknotes »
Steve Winkler
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winknotes

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Re: Variations form
« Reply #6 on: June 03, 2016, 10:50:41 AM »
Here's another theme and variations I ran across from a composer on the VSL forums.  Just more ideas of what you can do.   

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g9Yyw9DuPSY

Steve Winkler
Finale 2011
Windows 7 64-bit
Garritan GPO4, JABB
VSL SE/SE+ Standard
Reaper (sometimes)