I wrote this piece for Fordham's first composition workshop. It was performed on April 17, 2013 by the Exponential Ensemble. The piece is for clarinet, violin, and double bass.
It (actually) consists of six variations. The first group of three is of rising intensity, the second of falling intensity. Due to time constraints, the group was only able to practice and perform five of the variations. Thus, the first variation of the second group (variation 4) is missing from this recording.
The variations are on an abstract theme, meant to be something like a Platonic Form. The idea is that it exists only conceptually - something abstract in the technical sense used in philosophy. Any sensible representation of it will necessarily be a variation. For it will always have to include rhythms, voicing, and other embellishments to the bare structure given in the theme. The theme is as follows:
[I - III - VI - V] - [I (under 3-b6-5 motive) - bVI - (Beethoven Quote) - I]
The numbers 1, 3, and 6 are central to the theme. I was struck by the ability to divide an octave into three major thirds; scale degrees 1, 3, and b6, E-G#/Ab-C (which then goes back to E) in E major. These three tones make up the augmented triad. Thus, this is the basis of the musical relationships within the theme.
The variations realize the roman numerals in harmonic ways, through key changes and brief tonicizations. The brackets indicate the thematic material - the two main parts in each variation. The 3-b6-5 motive is a distinct melodic phrase which emerges in the second part of each variation. Finally, I give Beethoven the 'last word' in each variation with a quote.
All of the variations are in E major. Variation 1 is a fugue in three voices on a subject which is actually derived from the root notes of the chord progression of Variation 6. Instead of having the subject enter on scale degrees 1, 5, and 1 as fugues traditionally do, I have them enter on 1, 3, and 6. There is a brief episode which lands on five, then a stretto sections with the subject on 1 and 6. The 3-b6-5 motive emerges in the bass, and the piece lands on bVI before halting. I quote the beginning of the 'Heiliger Dankgesang' movement of Beethoven's Op. 132 String Quartet in A minor, then end on I.
The rest of the variations do similar things. Variation 2 takes this harmonic structure into what was meant to be a humorous, mock-Philip-Glass rhythmic and melodic setting. I tried to limit myself to this setting to see if I could keep it interesting for an uncomfortably long time. I'm not convinced of my success.
Variation 3 is based off of counterpoint on E, G#, and C (1-3-b6). I tried to limit myself to these three notes, but I couldn't resist getting outside of them every now and them.
Variations 4 consists of a descending chromatic scale in an aggressive rhythm which has an increasingly unstable tempo. It starts descending on 1, jumps up to descend on 3, then 6, until it finally collapses into a slower section in minor.
Variation 5 is a chorale which leads into an arpeggiation of the augmented triad and an obsessive repeat of the 3-b6-5 motive. It explodes and Beethoven's beautiful chorale from the middle movement of the Appassionata sonata arrives to pick up the pieces.
Finally, variation 6 is another chorale, which is intended to be more mysterious, perhaps even mystical. I think you will be able to recognize the Beethoven quote at the end.