Composing a Theme and Variations

Dr. Justin Henry Rubin © 2005

3. Second Variation: Ornamented Theme. In this variation the theme is broken into three sections (ABA). The first section of the melody is interpreted with embellishments (note the highlighted notes of the original theme). As well, instead of arriving at a D major cadence, as in the original, here the A section concludes with a secondary dominant preparing for a modulation to b minor in the next section. B is interpreted with greater license, creating shorter motifs from the original.

The repetition of the A section is further heightened by using thirds to amplify the melodic elaboration. However, since the original A section of Var. 2 did not cadence in the tonic key, here we must now find a new way of returning to D major. To solve this problem, the passage that prepared the original cadence is chromatically sequenced to reach the dominant of D (A major) instead of the dominant of b (F#).

4. Third Variation: Change in Meter. A metrical alteration can be used to change the inherent character of a theme. Here our duple meter melody is modified into a triple meter variant. In the score below we have highlighted harmonic passages worthy of note; especially as we pass through more variations, keeping too closely to the original progressions can become tiresome. Of particular interest is the use of the Neapolitan chord in the B section. One structural divergence from the original takes place at the first cadence point: the conclusion of A does not occur until the downbeat of bar 62, which is also the beginning of B. This creates a sense of seamless integration of the two sections.

Continue on to more variations.

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