Composing a Theme and Variations

Dr. Justin Henry Rubin © 2005

5. Fourth Variation: Modal Change. Although a more complex issue when there is a modulation involved, as is the case here, the use of the parallel key can create a sudden change in the mood of the theme.

6. Fifth Variation: Fugue. It is not uncommon to interpolate contrapuntal structures into the course of a set of variations (such as canons, fugues, etc.). However, regarding how much of the theme should be used in such a context becomes the point in question. Some composers choose to incorporate only the very recognizable opening of the melody, while others use more substantial segments or break the theme up and use portions at various junctures in the course of the variation. Here we've used only ideas from A as material for the subject but a brief hint of B occurs in the course of the development. For more information on how to compose a variation using fugal structures, see the related chapter on the subject.

7. Ending the Variations. Here we have adopted the practice of some composers who of employ, as a last 'variation', a recapitulation of the original form of the theme (with or without some modifications) as a way of creating a sense of closure to the piece. However, this is not a requirement for a set of variations; a culminating, climactic variation is also an alternate suggestion. The number of variations, their order, the style - or changing styles - of the series of variations, whether or not they are integrated with one another, are all variables at the discretion of the composer. The important concept for the student composer to remember is to explore the potential expressive content latent in any theme. As such, a theme and variation format can be an excellent method of developing one's ability to adapt a melodic idea to many different contexts.

8. Complete Piece. mp3 download, MIDI download, score pdf download

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