• Poul Ruders
  • Handel Variations (2009)

  • Edition Wilhelm Hansen Copenhagen (World)
  • 3(pic).3(ca).3(bcl).3(cbn)/4331/3perc/hp.pf.cel/str
  • 35 min

Programme Note

Ninety symphonic reflections on eight bars by Georg Friedrich Handel


The short, feisty Bourrée from Handel’s famous Water Music (First Suite, in F major) has for some years been hovering at the back of my mind as possessing the perfect potential for a series of variations. Not unlike the short “morsel” by Henry Purcell (the witches Ho-ho-ho-chorus from the opera Dido and Aeneas), which kicks off the ten variations of my orchestral work Concerto in Pieces, the music per se is not particularly interesting, but it nevertheless grows on you and is difficult to get rid of.

It is merely a handful of sequences (a technique much used in the Baroque era – a method in which the same motif is being shifted up and down in a specified order). Actually, it is only he first eight bars of the Bourrée which I haul through the wringer.

It would be obvious to assume, that Handel Variations make up a sequel to Concerto in Pieces, but in spite of the similarity in character between the two chosen themes, the Handel Variations are far more symphonically coherent. There are no less than ninety (!) variations and each variation (they are relatively short, ranging from four up to forty-something bars) runs seamlessly into the next, creating a huge symphonic body of constantly changing colours.

I set out with the original theme without interfering, but the “erosion” begins to gnaw away at the theme already from the first variation. Imagine a vast gallery of Handel portraits, in which Georg Friedrich appears, at first fully recognizable, but then the “disfiguration” sets in, and approximately halfway into the piece, all recognizability is gone – and how Handel-variations become Ruders-variations, because I carry on transforming the middle variations, which now are more Ruders than Handel…

And the inevitable question: why ninety variations? Well, “mission accomplished” – so to speak – it was time to draw the final bar line and call it a day.

Handel Variations, which last about 35 minutes, were commissioned by and are dedicated to the Aarhus Symphony Orchestra, in celebration of the orchestra’s 75th anniversary. The premiere took place on 14 January 2010, conducted by Giancarlo Andretta.

-Poul Ruders, September 2009



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