Variations on Small Piece 7 – an essay

I wrote the first version of Small Piece 7, around 1990.  It had no 4 bar introduction and was a short A B waltz.

The main basis for the piece was (ie what kicked it off), was my interest in Major Minor chord switches.  In bar 5, which was originally the first bar of the waltz, you can see that the base note B is paired with a D in the top line.  This implies the chord B minor in the first beat.  But this is immediately followed by a B Major chord (with D sharp in the bass), this, for me, gives it an immediate kick (a drive, a momentum). 

In the sixth bar the idea is continued with a typical chord V (in B) but untypically it is a minor chord (ie F sharp minor) which again is followed immediately by an F sharp Major Chord.  For the next bar (7) we are back to B Minor/Major,(8) then A major,(9) to a sort of F sharp Major first inversion,(10) C sharp Minor/Major,(11) a sort of F sharp seventh chord,(12) kind of implied B major to E Major to go back for the repeat.

The second half (the B section) is freer.  With sliding keys in the second time bars (13) through B flat Major and B Minor,(14) back into B flat Major/C Minor.  All before we get going properly.

The 8 bars slide chromatically through various chords.  The melody is a series of Modal scales.  And the base lines reflecting an upside-down version of the original melody in the first half.  It is part of my version of counterpoint for modern times.

So this is the original piece 16 bars of a waltz in two repeated halves.  This piece also ticked the box of Ambiguity, something that I enjoyed doing to the theoretical listeners of my pieces.  Namely that it should confuse the listener (and thereby hopefully interest them) as to what key, chord, rhythm, or melody they should be listening to.  This is something that is in my mind a lot.


Extension: The introduction was introduced around 1994, when I did some work with a song writer called Maria Tolley.  She liked some of my compositions and chose this (and a few others) to add words to for a concert that we gave in London.  It needed an introduction so I added the repeated 2 Bar Phrase to get things going.


Chapter 2

It is sometimes difficult for me to remember what decisions I have made when writing a piece of music.  Once a project is done, all of the intense working detail is got rid of ready for another piece, idea or overall project. 

So to some extent to explain these variations I am having to do a little forensic work to work out what I did in the first place.

1          The first variation, at “A”, is a simplification of the waltz, I had to understand what I had done in the first place to do some variations on it.  It is also pared down rhythmically.

The major minor theme is carried out in the same chords (roughly) as the theme.

2          The second variation at “B”, is an arch construction with the first half growing from a third apart in two parts, through to 5 parts widely spaced.  Following a repeat the second half now starts wide and contracts to the end.  In line with my original impulse of the Goldberg Variations I have changed the time signature of this variation from a Waltz time (three beats in a bar) to a strong March time (four beats in a bar) and made it much more freely chromatic (as Bachs own famous Chromaticism). 

3          The Third variation at “C”, goes back to the Waltz time of the original but reflects one of my interests, the baroque Sarabande sound world.  So the three beats are broken up in the manor of Buxtehude, with all of the parts of the chords broken into separately played notes and half notes.  So you get a sprinkling of notes across the two halves.

4          The Fourth variation at “D” is back to four beats in a bar and the whole piece has been shortened by half.  It is in my brutalist (though not as brutal as some) style.  Chromatic and sharply rhythmic.

5          The Fifth variation at “E” is back to three beats in a bar.  In the original Goldberg variations every third variation is a canon.  Variation 3 is a strict canon so the right hand plays two parts at the same time.  Both parts are the same but are started at different times.  This is a simple canon.

So imagine the rhythm is the same as well


Part 2:                    AAEEDEF-GFECDCC-aaGaGGa-CCBCBBA-

Part 3:                                        AAEEDEF-GFECDCC-aaGaGGa-CCBCBBA-

And so on.  All of the above parts are the same but when played at different times against each other, they form a complete piece. 

Bach also had a left hand base line as well which was not in canon but worked with the other two parts.

But Bach was not finished, for variation 6 he did a canon where the second part was exactly one tone up from the first one.  Still using the original chords.

Variation 9 was a Minor third lower, Variation 12 was not only a fourth below the first but the second part was a mirror of the first, so when the first part went up a tone, the second one went down a tone, first part up a third, second part down a third and so on.  Very difficult to do and make a decent piece of music out of it.  The fun carries on with a ridiculously difficult final canon a tenth apart and including other elements.  Bach was the best.

So in my own humble way I wanted to have a go, so variation 5 is a canon a fifth apart, in the first bar you can see a crotchet (quarter note) D followed by a D#, the second part comes in above at the fifth on A followed by A#.  etc.  In the second half I swapped them over so the top part starts first, I also included a little Bach/baroque quote into the canon, from bar 174. 

6          Variation six is a rhythmic variation, with 5 beats per bar.  In the past during bouts of depression, I have sought ways to come out of it.  One way in the past was to seek the sound of happiness.  So I wrote a number of Happy Pieces, see my compositions on piano, or tuned percussion to hear them on my website.  I also at one point tried different rhythms out for the emotional effect.  I found that anything written in a 5 beats to a bar rhythm was inherently happy.  Hence the use in some of the Happy pieces. 

So 5 beats per bar holds a special place.  This variation is a bit difficult to play but sounds very effective.

7          The counter to all of this business is Variation seven.  It is a Chorale version of the chords of the piece (with extra chords added between the originals to bulk it out enough).  I have upset the natural rhythm of the chorale with added extra 5 beat bars every so often.  I thought that the pieces needed some extra breathing points.  Four part chorale writing is the core of Bach’s writing, and I have loved the sound and feel of Chorales for a long time.

8          We are now back to the original Waltz theme though I have extended and added extra divisions to it, to make it a little more interesting. 

I think that the ending works really well, but I am pleased with the overall effect of the piece as a whole.  It is my condensed tribute to the Goldberg Variations.

Let me know if you have any other questions about this or other pieces, and I will try to answer.

Scroll to Top