Siskind

orchestra (1991, rev. 1995) 5’

published by Sweet Child Music

recorded by the Kiev Philharmonic, ERM Media (expected Fall ’08)

  • Minnesota Orchestra/American Composers Forum Perfect Pitch program, 1997
  • American Music Center, Margaret Fairbank Jory Copying Grant, 1996

“Siskind’s variations are clever,… and the piece is well orchestrated.”

Michael Anthony, Minneapolis Star Tribune, 1/18/97

Fantasy-Variations on a Fragment by Schoenberg was originally a short piano piece, written over a two-day period in February of 1991 as a portion of the comprehensive examinations for my Ph.D. I was pleased with how the piano piece turned out, and subsequently decided to orchestrate it. A first draft of the orchestration was sketched in April of 1991, but the orchestration was not completed until the Fall of 1995.

The source material for the Fantasy-Variations is the opening of Schoenberg’s Piano Piece Op. 11 #1. However, this “theme” is not heard in an unaltered form until the coda (in a high solo violin). Rather, the piece opens with a short fantasy on the various aspects of the original fragment that will be developed throughout my variations, including the original melody, the accompanying chords, and motives drawn from countermelodies. After this fantasy, the apparent “theme” is heard in the cellos at a slower tempo; however, this is actually the original theme inverted (i.e. played upside-down), a playful (if slightly obscure) twist on the idea of writing a traditional theme and variations.

There are a number of similar hidden jokes throughout the Variations. For example, the second variation begins with an obvious glissando in the harp, mimicking the arpeggio that immediately follows the opening fragment in the Schoenberg original. Likewise, the dotted rhythms (in the muted trumpet) of the third variation and the low undulating thirds (in the cellos and harp) of the sixth variation both mimic later fragments of the original. A more humorous tweak occurs in the fourth variation, where I quote the exact rhythms of Schoenberg’s fourth String Quartet (a piece often studied during my doctorate), but with the pitches of Schoenberg’s piano piece substituted instead. While these hidden jokes are perhaps too obscure to be recognized by most listeners, they are incorporated to contribute to the overall sense of quirkiness which I wanted the Variations to project (perhaps I was thumbing my nose at the requirements of doctoral exams?). Indeed, the Variations end in a subdued and inconclusive manner, as if I wished that I had more than two days to write them.

The Fantasy-Variations was premiered by Eiji Oue and the Minnesota Orchestra in January, 1997, having been selected from their inaugural Perfect Pitch reading session of May, 1996.

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