Timo Variations

ENS.2021.1a | 30′
Solo Piano


Timo Variations

Timo Variations was composed for and is dedicated to one of my oldest and closest friends, the composer and pianist Timo Andres, and comprises a theme followed by nine variations and a closing aria.

Though I am a terrible pianist—perhaps because I am a terrible pianist—I love the piano repertoire, and the very classical form of theme and variations has long intrigued me. Not only the seemingly endless ways composers can spin increasingly wild and imaginative gold from even the simplest thematic flax, but building taut structures around the smallest motives and material always struck me as close to my own practice.

After casting haphazardly about for a suitable melody, one day it occurred to me to ask Timo to write me something, to which request he graciously agreed. In this way my work became not only a homage to his astounding pianism but to his wonderful compositions as well, both of which I admire enormously.

Timo’s theme is based around two ideas, a simple turn and a rising and falling three-note gesture. Cast in an AAB form, we first hear both ideas semplice over wandering chords, until in the B section the turn is transformed into a descending pattern that settles into a luscious abschied.

My variations are not simply restatements of the original melodic and harmonic material ornamented with intricate arabesques, as in the classical tradition, but a collection of small individual pieces based on—extruded from, as it were—Timo’s raw material. They hew close to the theme’s compositional strata yet musically stray far afield, each its own discrete bagatelle (though all are virtuosic in their own peculiar way).

A performance of Timo’s theme is followed by nine variations organized into three parts. Each part corresponds to the theme’s divisions—Part I to the first A section, Part II to the second, and Part III to the B section—while each of the three variations nestled within further recapitulates that fractal form. Some variations are more spare, examining each of the three musical ideas as if under a microscope, some are more minimalist, pattern-based, while others reference variations by Liszt, Brahms, Bach, Pärt, and even Webern.

After one final burst of brilliant passagework, the piece concludes with an aria which is both a recapitulation and variation of the entire original theme, bringing Timo Variations to a gentle close.