Symphonic Variations, Op. 10

Stewart Grant

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Publisher: Theodore Presser Company
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Quick Overview

The Symphonic Variations were commissioned by the Lethbridge Symphony Association with the assistance of the Canada Council. They were first performed by the Lethbridge Symphony Orchestra under the composer's direction in February, 1984. Further performances of the work have included performances by the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Uri Mayer and by the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and the National Orchestra of Argentina conducted by Richard Hoenich.

?My Symphonic Variations represent an important point of arrival in my personal stylistic development in that they apply to a large symphonic form the musical language that had been brought to maturity in such smaller works as my Fantasia no. 2 for solo oboe d'amore and Bhajan for solo cello and string orchestra, both of which also use variation form. The language is essentially tonal and its roots are related to the language of contemporary jazz and popular music that I studied with Gordon Delamont, but it is linear rather than chordal in nature and it uses extensive chromaticism and harmonies based on fourths, fifths, seconds and sevenths rather than the thirds and sixths of traditional tonal harmony. It attempts to strike a balance between the fresh and the familiar and is intended to allow a variety of expression and a sense of harmonic motion that are difficult to achieve in purely atonal music.

?The essence of the work is to be found in the Theme, which is serene and contemplative in nature and supplies the basic design and much of the important motivic material for each of the seven variations. It starts with a phrase in the first violins who are answered, in turn, by the seconds, violas and 'celli. The texture builds until a pivotal harmonic shift, at which point the solo woodwinds and horn take over the interplay, bringing the Theme to a quiet close. The first variation immediately dispels this serenity with a fanfare for brass and timpani in which the brass enter sharply in succession, building up a chord derived from the Theme. There then ensues a somewhat supercilious March that tries to be appropriately military but keeps getting rudely interrupted. It finally gets going, reaches a climax, and as it heads off into the distance a reference to another recently popular march assures us that it should not be taken too seriously. From this directly emerges a vigorous Waltz that opens with a virtuosic display by the first violins and ends with a whisper from the piccolo and suspended cymbal. The third variation is a Pastorale in which the muted strings build up a chord in the same fashion as the fanfare of the March, but with a totally different effect. Over this tranquil background the solo woodwinds and horn answer one another with cadenza-like passages. Then everything begins to move as the variation rises to a lush impressionistic climax. Again the piccolo has the last say, leading to a slow Blues in which the transformed opening phrases of the Theme are played by the muted trumpet and trombone. This in turn leads directly into a bright, jazzy variation and then a wild, driving variation dominated by the brass and the screaming of the flutes and clarinets. This variation brings the work to its central climax, but its true culmination comes in the last variation, which returns to the contemplative mood of the Theme but expands and more thoroughly develops its materials - as if to make clear that the other variations have been merely passing digressions in the search for inner tranquility that is the ultimate point of the entire work.?

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Additional Information

Commission Commissioned by the Lethbridge Symphony Association with the assistance of the Canada Council
Composition Date 1984
Duration 00:15:00
Orchestration 3 1 2 2 - 4 2 3 1; Timp. 2Perc. Str.
Premiere February, 1984. Lethbridge Symphony, conducted by the composer, Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada.

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