• Kenneth Leighton
  • Seven Variations (1964)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)

Commissioned by Maurice de Sausmarez, in memoriam Jessie Rose de Sausmarez

  • String Quartet
  • 13 min

Programme Note

This work was written during the spring of 1964, and was commissioned by the artist, Maurice de Sausmarez, in memory of his mother, Jessie Rose de Sausmarez. The first performance took place in London during the same year. The work is a kind of epitaph or memorial and each movement tries to express a different aspect of grief culminating in a more extended elegiac fugue.

All seven variations are based on a single series of notes, and the series is used both thematically and as a structural basis. There is therefore no 'theme' in the traditional sense, and in this respect the work follows the practice of many modern essays in variation form.

The variations are quite distinct and a brief indication of the character of each variation may be of help in following the musical argument.

Var. 1 - a short elegiac piece which sets the prevailing mood of the work as a whole. The phrases are quite short, even fragmentary, and the tension is mainly harmonic.

Var. 2 - marked 'Capriccioso alla valzer', this contains an underlying mood of irony and bitterness. It's lilting waltz rhythm is almost transformed into a statement of protest.

Var. 3 - a slow, lyrical and passionate movement, in which the melodic lines are very extended and move in an almost 'vocal' manner against a pulsating accompaniment.

Var. 4 - the indication here is 'cullente' or 'rocking'. The piece is entirely for muted strings, and is in the manner of an elegiac cradle-song.

Var. 5 - a very fast and rhythmically complex movement. The piece is written for string pizzicato throughout, with the exception of five short fragments of melody played with the bow by first violin.

Var. 6 - an Allegro Precipitose which expresses a mood of violence and protest.

Var. 7 - in the manner of a fugue, this slow finale is much more extended than other variations, and carries the main emotional weight of the work. The end is somewhat mysterious and fragmentary, and leaves all the questions unanswered.

© 1984 Kenneth Leighton

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