The Brass Variations

Be sure to reference how this variation compares to the original theme and the other variations on the Thematic Fragments page,

“The Chase” makes reference to the fact that this variation starts with a traditional fugue. A fugue is a form in which a theme is stated, then repeated by other “voices” (they “chase” each other!) with a gradual layering of material until the piece becomes quite dense and full of motion. It was quite popular in the time of J.S. Bach (he wrote uncountable numbers of them), though there are plenty of less Baroque examples. (A favorite of mine is the opening movement to Béla Bartók’s “Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste.”) A traditional fugue implies a lot of things which I ultimately ignore (including traditional “circle of fifths” key changes), since the fugue part of this variation is by no means all of it. But before I abandon it, I had fun building the fugue with these instruments, which, when playing full bore, sound not unlike a full-throated organ!

The fugue theme (based on the original opening theme to this work — see Thematic Fragments) is carried by the French horn, then by 2nd trumpet, then 1st trumpet, then (after a grand entrance!) by the tuba. After that, the mood suddenly changes, becoming thinner and quieter, leading to a full statement by the trombone of the opening theme in the original key.

Since the fugue’s theme, and the theme of the entire composition, share the first two measures, this relationship is explored a bit (one chasing the other) until a full quote of the main theme — in its triumphant 5-voice statement from the beginning. That quote deceptively cadences to the original key. A coda follows: the instruments exchange a step-wise fragment derived from several previous variations (Variation #2 comes to mind), and concludes with the chordal close of Variation #3.

This fifth variation has a LOT of thematic content derived from pieces of the composition so far, as one might expect from a concluding section. Although it provided some of the most difficult writing experiences, it was probably the most fun to build, since it is complex and full of variation.

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