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The subtitle of this work is Variations on a theme of Jenny McLeod. In late 2012 I had conducted several movements from Jenny McLeod’s Sun Festival Carols and was constantly haunted by the music of the seventh movement 'Jade'. Something about the vitality of the music and its melodic and harmonic language got stuck in my head (what is often called an 'ear-worm'!).
When I was asked if I had anything for a school chamber music group of 3 violins and cello, I thought writing a work based on Jenny’s music might finally exorcise the piece from my brain. To this group I asked if I could add a wind instrument to allow a five-part texture, hence the flute.
The work is a set of variations on the opening section of the 'Jade' movement of Sun Festival Carols. It’s not a set of traditional variations, in that the harmonic skeleton is not retained through each variation. Rather, it is a set of pieces based on elements of the original music – melodic, rhythmic and harmonic.
The work opens with a fairly straight-forward instrumentation of the original music from bars 1 to 42. The first variation picks up on the opening soprano melody idea, and this is further examined in the 2nd variation. The third variation is a slow and solemn piece using a five beats-in-a-bar time signature, based on a tiny fragment of melody which is initially buried in the 3rd violin part. The lively 4th variation is for just the flute and 1st violin, and draws on melodic elements from the coda of the original piece. The 5th variation is an energetic re-working of harmonic elements using irregular time signatures. The 6th variation is fugal, again based on the opening soprano melody. The theme is treated in a variety of ways eventually being augmented to double its original duration and then to notes four times their original values. This variation leads without pause into the finale which is an instrumentation of the chorus section of the original work, concluding with a glance back at the opening music, A few bold unexpected chords round off the work.
Jade Variations was written at the suggestion of Jocelyn Beath for a group of students in New Plymouth.
It is also available for flute and string quartet.
Suitable for school chamber groups