Nine Variations in Search of a Theme
Malcolm Fox

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7 minutes
Performing Materials:
For my son Jonathan
Composer's Notes:
This composition is a set of nine variations on the well-known tune 'chopsticks'.

However, it differs from conventional variation form in that the theme is stated at the end rather than at the beginning - hence the title. This format presents the listener with a puzzle - to guess the theme before it is played by the pianist - however, this is quite a challenge as the relationships between the variations and the theme are not always immediately obvious.

Each variation has been composed in the style of a particular composer. In addition to guessing the theme, the listener may also attempt to guess the composers represented and - in some cases - particular works of theirs which I have used as a model. By arranging the variations in chronological order, the listener is presented over about 7 minutes with a survey of musical style from about 1750 to the present.

For the information of the adjudicators the composers represented are:

1 Bach
2 Mozart
3 Beethoven
4 Chopin
5 Wagner
6 Debussy
7 Stravinsky
8 Webern
9 Philip Glass

Variation 1 is in the style of a Bach chorale; variation 2 is in the style of a Mozart piano sonata; variation 3 makes reference to the scherzo of Beethoven's 5th Symphony; variation 4 is in the style of a Chopin waltz; variation 5 makes reference to themes from Wagner's 'Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg'; variation 6 is in the style of a Debussy piano prelude with reference to 'Voiles' and 'Jimbo's Lullaby'; variation 7 makes reference to Stravinsky's 'Rite of Spring'; variation 8 uses serial techniques characteristic of Webern; variation 9 uses repetitive techniques characteristic of Philip Glass.

The nine variations have been composed with the general ability range of Year 12 students in mind; however, each one presents different technical and interpretive challenges. Overall, the variations are a good test of the performer's ability to capture a broad range of different musical styles. The whole work should last about 7 minutes.

Although composed as a set of 9, the piece is modular in the sense that not every variation need be performed (although the last is essential). For example, a c.5 minute work entitled 'Six Variations in Search of a Theme' could be created by omitting variations 1, 4 and 7. In this way it is possible to programme a selection of variations to suit a particular programme length and/or technical standard.