The Brass Variations

This project, a single-movement piece for traditional brass quintet (two B♭ trumpets, one double French horn, one tenor trombone, one tuba) will follow the same web delivery format as “September,” my orchestral tone poem — for slightly different reasons. I will track my progress here as I did there, but the progress will reflect this piece’s “Theme and Variations” format. The page titled “The Fragments” linked above will have a list of thematic fragments (starting with the main theme) which are used in each section, with explanations as to how they relate to each other and fit together. Other pages deliver each full section (the main theme, and five variations). The last “Full Composition” page has everything together. It’ll all make sense, I swear!

As always, there may be changes as I make updates.

Learning Goals of This Piece

My first goal is to explore the instruments, their unique solo characteristics, and their ability to work together and support each other. Although I’ve written for some brass instruments before, this format provides a better platform for learning such things.

My second goal is to explore “variation” in a general musical sense. Since “variation” is probably the most important skill composers can apply to melodic/thematic content, it seemed logical to select a format that addresses this specifically. “Theme and Variations” has found its way into the collected works of almost every major composer throughout history — sometimes as stand-alone works like this one, sometimes as movements that are a part of larger works. Many of these historic examples take a full thematic statement from another composer and build compositions using modified versions of that theme, often crammed into another, perhaps unrelated format, such as a waltz or gavotte.

My variations won’t happen quite that way. In the spirit of my String Quartet #1’s second movement (Scherzo), it isn’t my intent that any of the variations live as stand-alone pieces, but rather parts of a whole composition. The variations will transition one to another without specific cadences or flow stoppages, though, you can tell you’re into another variation by a change in the “feel” of the music. (I’ve given titles to each variation to identify each “feel.”) As a result, you can experience the work as one continuous piece, but an examination of the thematic pieces and their variations should reveal a whole new layer of familiarity and connection.

We’ll see how well it works. It should be fun!