Variations on a theme of Haydn


piano four hands
Piano Duet

Commissioned for Joseph Tong and Waka Hasegawa with funds from the John S Cohen Foundation, the Ralph Vaughan Williams Charitable Trust, the Radcliffe Trust and the Cheltenham Music Festival

First Performance
8.7.2017, Cheltenham Festival, Cheltenham, UK: Joseph Tong/Waka Hasegawa

Score on special sale from the Hire Library

Programme Notes

I have always loved the piano four-hand repertoire, and have played some of its outstanding works – by Mozart, Schubert, Dvoƙák – with friends. I am particularly fond of Mozart’s Andante with Variations, K501, so when Joseph Tong and Waka Hasegawa asked me to write a piece for them, I thought I would write a set of variations, choosing for a theme the opening of Haydn’s last string quartet, of which he only completed two movements, an Andante grazioso and a minuet. The theme of the Andante is both beautiful and unusually chromatic, and its chromaticism strongly affected my own writing. Haydn’s first and second sections are both repeated, but in my variations I follow this scheme only once.

    There are twelve variations. The first three are in Haydn’s key of B flat major. Variation 1 keeps Haydn’s theme in the treble, with a richer accompaniment, including a counter-melody. Variation 2 has the theme in the bass, and over it various contrapuntal lines interweave, some in canon. Variation 3 turns Haydn’s theme into a waltz, and is tonally more wide-ranging, though it returns to B flat at the end. Variation 4, Allegro, is a strict canon at the octave, in no clear tonality. There is an almost repeat, except that the second time the upper part is an octave higher. Variation 5, in G minor, is a tango, a favourite dance form of mine. In Variation 6, a slow succession of bitonal chords, superimposing a selection from Haydn’s harmonic scheme, begins with a combination of B flat major and D major and ends in B flat. Variation 7, Lento sostenuto, begins in A minor and is a kind of highly chromatic blues. In Variation 8, Drammatico, fierce bitonal chords in B flat and E alternate with quiet canons which rise to a climax at the end, and a big chord combining E major and minor. Variation 9 is a barcarole in E flat: the theme in the treble begins with an inversion of Haydn’s theme, accompanied throughout by elaborately chromatic chords. Variation 10, a moto perpetuo, is mostly in four-octave unison, with fortissimo triplets constantly interrupted by piano groups of four. Variation 11 is a short slow introduction to the finale, which begins with a four-part fugue, then changes to a Presto in scherzo mood. At the end, the music, which has ben tonally ambiguous throughout the variation, unexpectedly arrives in B flat, whereupon the treble and bass in turn refer to the opening of Haydn’s theme, with two bars of silence in between that I hope might have amused the master of musical jokes.

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