Percussion (1 player)
Accordion (or synthesizer)
Strings (min. 1-1-1-1-1)
Duration: ca. 15’
Great Noise Ensemble, Susan Katsarelis, violin in February, 2006.
In recent years I have been concerned with the idea of placing a piece’s structural weight in its middle. This obsession, as it were, began with my violin concerto, Musica Concertata, in 2000. In preparing to write that piece I was struck that I could not bring any examples to mind of multi-movement pieces of music that have their main focus in the central movement(s). There are myriad examples, particularly from the Classical period, of pieces centered around the first movement and there are equally numerous examples from Beethoven onward of pieces whose structural and emotional focus lies in the final movement. A focus on the central movement, however, is rare indeed. While I have written at least two multi-movement pieces in which the middle movement is the most important, structurally (the afore-mentioned Musica Concertata and the clarinet quintet St. Luke’s Summer), Tango Variations is my attempt to explore this approach to structure within a single movement piece and, specifically, in a theme-and-variations form.
Unlike traditional theme-and-variations the theme in Tango Variations is not heard at the outset. Instead the variations emanate from it as ripples in a lake. After a brief introduction from the solo violin, a series of three variations with similar rhythmic material begin the process and are followed by another set of three variations with similar rhythmic concerns. Each variation becomes increasingly simpler until there is little left of the theme than a basic deconstruction of its very simple, triadic harmony. It is only then that the theme itself is introduced: the tango melody from my song cycle Silly Ditties. At this point, the process begins anew with each subsequent variation becoming increasingly complex, rhythmically and/or melodically in what is, essentially, the work’s slow movement, itself divided into three sections (the first variation in this sub-set, variation 9, features a lyrical treatment of the theme in the style of a slow habanera featuring the orchestral winds. The soloist enters in variation 10 with a free variation on the melody over a b-flat pedal tone and variation 11 is itself a variation of variation 9, with melodic roles reversed from the woodwinds to the brass and an obligatto line from the soloist). The work culminates in a brash, vibrant finale, which begins as a series of spiraling variations and concludes as a summation of the concerns of the entire work.