John McCabe : Variations on a Theme of Hartmann
Fugue with Epilogue
These Variations, which are dedicated to my mother, were written in the Spring of 1964 and first performed the following year in the Free Trade Hall, Manchester, by the Hallé Orchestra conducted by Maurice Handford. The theme is taken from the opening to the first movement of the Fourth Symphony by the Bavarian composer Karl Amadeus Hartmann (1905-63), and the work was designed as a tribute to the memory of this most distinguished composer, though the mood of the music as a whole is perhaps more extrovert than one would normally associate with a memorial piece.
The theme is heard on the strings alone (Hartmann's symphony is for string orchestra), and the harp joins in to take us into the variations, which are as follows:
Elegia (Lento): a more or less straight restatement of the theme, with full orchestra joining in, and with some slight textural elaborations;
Scherzo (Vivo): for full orchestra, a kind of very quick waltz without the oom-pa-pa bass but with one or two violent outbursts;
Intermezzo (Andante): in this movement the oboes, trumpets, trombones and tuba are omitted. It is more lyrical than the preceding variation, with much use of glockenspiel, vibraphone and celesta, and contains a long central horn solo;
Capriccio (Giocoso): scored for brass, piccolo, doublebasses and percussion (including bongos), this is an extremely short and rhythmical piece;
Sarabande (Andante moderato): for full orchestra once more, this is longer than the previous variations and is a chaconne. It builds up to a sustained climax, inflected by much percussive drumming, and leads without a break into
Fugue with Epilogue (Allegro): this begins in the brass, the fugue subject being slightly jazzy. The percussion join in, and only half-way through the fugue do the rest of the orchestra enter. A climax is built up, at the peak of which a corner is turned and from the virtuosic high jinks of the work it suddenly moves to an intense, impassioned restatement of the climax of Hartmann's theme. This quickly dies down, and the work ends with a single fortissimo chord on full orchestra.
Programme Note © Copyright 1991 by John McCabe