Multi-movement Variations

All Things Bright and Beautiful

McKee Variations

Duration: 7 min
Overture: 2 min
Meditation: 2 min
Finale: 3 min

Description: Like the Passacaglia on Spirit, this work was originally envisioned as a way to strengthen congregational singing of a–for this congregation–new tune. The first movement I wrote was what ended up being the Finale. Becuase I didn’t intend any other movements, it has both a loud, bolder section (the A material) which occurs on either side of a softer, more meditative section (the B material). I thought that the ABA form would be pretty complete. It gave me the opportunity to play with the tune in two different environments, and gave the congregation several opportunities to hear the tune.

I was surprised when I decided that at least a softer introductory piece was needed. This intro, based on a two-measure chord progression that repeats throughout the entire movement, would give a better lead-in to the A material of the next movement. It also allowed me to put the melody in the pedal, a device I enjoy doing. The pedal solo is the B section of this movement, with an unadorned statement of the melody in the right hand making up much of the surrounding A sections (again, an ABA form). During the B section, the right hand presents the melody in a somewhat free canonic form, making a rather neat duet.

But wait! No sooner was this movement nearing completion than I thought of another way to start things off. So my intro became a Meditation, and this new material, which I thought of as an overture, became the actual first movement. Unlike the other two, it is not in ABA form, although it does bring back the opening material twice more in different key areas, so that there is a loose A A’ A’ form. What I find most interesting is that there is no clear statement of the melody, although there are plenty of fragments (after all, I had just written two other movements with plenty of statements of the hymn tune–I wanted something different!). Even though it is the first movement that the congregation hears, it leads to the next movement for a clear statement of the tune.

In keeping with my preoccupation with ABA form, the three movements together hint at this form, with the first and third being louder and more energetic, and the second quieter and more reflective. One result of writing what became the first two movements was that, as I played over the Finale, I found that I wanted to do something more with a couple of the statements of the melody. I started swinging part of the A statements, saving the more complex statement for the second A. It’s a modest homage to the African-American roots of the tune.

The three movements make a nice, extended–if somewhat dramatic–prelude, or can function as prelude, offertory, and postlude (although my congregation wants more than two minutes of prelude!). Overall, this is a somewhat challenging work.

Partita on Beach Spring

Duration: 5’15”
Description: Variation set on Beach Spring.

Partita on Comfort, comfort ye my people

Partita on Immortal, Invisible

Duration: 8’20”
I: 45″
II/III: 1’35”
IV: 1 minute
V: 2’10”
VI: 1’50”
VII: 1 minute

Description: A set of seven variations on St. Denio. The first 4 were written in 1980 and are primarily a transcription of an improvisation. The last three were written in 2005, when I wanted a more substantial pre-service prelude (the duration of the first four is 3’20”; the last three offer an additional 5 minutes!).

This set works well on small instruments as well as larger. The first movement uses only a 4′ flute; the second adds an 8′ flute; the third, which flows directly from the second, gets fuller and sees the first use of pedal (doing the hymn tune). The fourth is fuller yet, with a flowing, somewhat chromatic constantly descending bass line under slower-moving chords with some chromatic material.

The fifth returns to a softer sound, with a slowly-evolving left-hand ostinato and occasional supporting notes in the pedal against a lyrical free melody based losely on the hymn tune. The sixth movement returns to a fuller sonority, with dramatic fragments based on the tune interrupted by a softer cadenza. The final movement recaptures the softer mood and prepares for the ensuing worship service, with a slow-moving pedal, melody in the left hand, and slow chords in the right.

Partita on Rejoice, ye pure in heart

Partita on Truro

Variations on a French Carol

Duration: 2’30”
Description: Intended as a postlude, this piece has an ostinato bass in three against the 4/4 meter of the melodic material. The French carol the title refers to is the hymn tune Gloria, associated with the hymn “Angels we have heard on high.” The most recognizable part of the tune is the refrain, here given a robust treatment.


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