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Theme and Variations (For Strings and Piano)


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Disclaimer: This is NOT my entry for the fall competition. 

I wrote this piece during my student days as an exercise. I was inspired by the Downton Abbey soundtrack and instrumentation, which consisted of piano and strings. I came up with an original theme and wrote 3 variations on it. I would appreciate any feedback and comments. Happy listening! 

PS: The audio is a little meh....but you'll get the general idea.

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Very nice set of variations.  Initially after hearing the theme, I had some reservations since the theme is fairly long and somewhat amorphous harmonically and melodically so to me I anticipated it would be hard to hear the theme within the subsequent variations.  It was for me in regards to the last variation but it was pretty clear with the first two.  I particularly like the first variation with the great use of pizz with a nice rippling effect which I would imagine in be especially effective in a live performance.  It certainly begs for a few more variations to round out what you have here.

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Overall, pretty nice.


  • The crossed voices in the second measure are awkward, and obscure the sound of the theme, a big no no for a piece like this.
  • Try to put style markings on the note if possible, like the pizz at measure 11.
  • Engraving is a little messed up. A lot of shape factors collide quite often.
  • I'm surprised you gave your theme section a "form". There was an obvious low section and a beginning and end section. This isn't wrong per se but it is odd, considering the focus should always be on the theme.

Variation 1:

  • Perhaps too jumpy. It almost feels like you're playing with multiple variations within one variation which is dubious. 
  • Why did you use octaves in measure 5, unlike the split octaves used in the measure before?
  • Is measure 5 divisi in the strings? It'd better be.
  • Measure 15, that's kind of a difficult chord to roll like that in the left hand. I know it's supposed to be a tied note, but an 11th in that awkward hand position isn't the most welcome.
  • Engraving again. It's never not-important. 

Variation 2:

  • Fun! Also a little jumpy, especially at the end, but it's a little bit better here because of better metric modulation.
  • I would change the bowing in the first violin melody at the beginning (down, up, up, down, up).
  • Bowings at 20 are also a little difficult that way.
  • Unclear how to do the glissando at measure 23.
  • Callback to Carnival of Animals (if it was intended) was interesting at measure 30, but could have both been notated better. Also, a better lead in could have made it a cooler moment.
  • Engraving!

Variation 3:

  • Bowing at measure 11 is hard for the inner voices.
  • Engraving!
  • Some of the figures are obscured by other chords that don't really have a callback.
  • Perhaps you leave the audience waiting a little too long for buildups and cooldowns... the gradual momentum is kind of lost.

This is nice with very clear variations. The third one was very dreamy and ethereal. It has a very weirdly baroque or medieval feel to it sometimes, but knows how to transition out of it quite nicely, and changes enough to keep audiences engaged through pretty much the whole thing.

If you'd like me to grade this as though if it were a competition piece (minus the number of variations of course), let me know and I'd be happy to give that to you for reference. 


EDIT: I'd also like to agree with bkho in their assertion that more variations would be nice, perhaps between the second and the third, as the third is quite long. 

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Thanks for the comments! I wish I did write more variations, but to be honest, I got tired of the theme and the piece in general to continue. 

@Monarcheon: If you got the time, I would love a graded review! Engraving and score presentation is not my forte, but I believe I have improved a lot since I wrote this piece on that front. 

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I won't do a full review justifying everything I say, but it should give you an idea.


How clear was it that the entrant followed the basis of theme in each variation? 11/20
I could hear clear hints on that front. You definitely play with the tonic Major 7th chord a lot, which is admirable, but the actual melodies seem to be a lot loosely based on the theme. Your pitch set classes start on E (eleven, if you're not familiar), down to 9, up to E, then to 0, then descends in thirds. This is not replicated very many places, at least verbatim which I would have expected a little more than what you did. Times where it should correctly go in inversion are missed out on when a motive continues to ascend. I do SEE it in other places but really doesn't FOCUS on it, which I think is paramount in a composition of this sort. 

How unique was each variation in comparison to both the theme and the preceding variation? 16/20
Pretty good. The last variation was much too close to the theme without it being labeled as an interlude or a Coda of some sort. I know it's not the same tempo, but you cannot disagree that when the CM7 comes in in the last variation it sounds remarkably similar to what was presented in the theme.

There was to be a larger emphasis on orchestration this season. How well did the entrant write for the instruments he/she/they chose? 11/20
Piano was written for averagely. Weird chord splits and rolls, and especially inconsistent writing were things that prevented it from being regarded higher. Strings bowings were oftentimes atrocious with seemingly little attempts to make it reasonable. Note-wise it is very basic and lacks a deep understanding of the instruments capabilities in many places.

How quality is the score? Are all the markings necessary for a successful performance there? Are all the variations and/or coda labeled? 3/20
It looks as though the first page had a lot of time and effort put in to making it look quality, and the rest of the piece was thrown aside. Notes, markings, slurs, and dynamics all clash in some way after that. As mentioned above, bowings and slurs are often unrealistic and unclear. Credit was given for the solo/.5/tutti section at the very end. 

Is the length practical (or does the piece start sounding monotonous?)? 8.5/15
The theme is very long in comparison to the first two variations. The final variation matches it, but it is honestly not a very welcome addition to the piece. As said prior, there are clear similarities in the two, but almost too much so. Altered tones are present, but don't mean much in the grand context of the piece. It was unreasonable to have so many changes in the final variation and the theme without claiming they were something else. Other slow movements can be present in pieces like this but don't mimic them over and over... that's what gets monotonous. 

How is the quality of the audio? 2.5/5
It's enjoyable to listen to. I could tell what was going on, but some electric snaps on the thematic notes was weird and of course the sounds were unclear in terms of voicing at times.

TOTAL: 52/100

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