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Enigma Variations & Alma Deutscher

Alberto Ginastera (Buenos Aires, 1916 – Geneva, 1983)
Variationes concertantes, Op. 23 (1953)

     Alberto Ginastera wrote prolifically in all the major genres, including three operas as well as many orchestral, vocal and chamber works, and became one of the best-known South American composers of the 20th century. Variaciones concertantes especially has won an enduring place in the repertory due to its brilliant orchestration and its simple yet highly ingenious formal construction. The variation form gives it diversity and contrast, while the single theme guarantees the unity of the work. Each variation is assigned to a different solo instrument or instrumental group.
    The work opens with a characteristic sonority that has come to be called Ginastera’s "symbolic chord." It is the sequence produced by the open strings of the guitar, an instrument of primary importance to any Spanish-speaking musician. It provides a natural starting point for the music, and Ginastera used it as a kind of personal signature in a number of his works. In Variaciones concertantes, the "symbolic chord" is played by the harp right at the beginning, before a solo cello joins in to play the main theme. The sections that follow include a brief "Interlude for strings," followed by nine variations. The first two—Cheerful variation for flute and Scherzo-variation for clarinet—are lively and rhythmically alive; the Dramatic variation for viola, in an extremely slow tempo, is an impassioned instrumental recitative. The Canonic variation for oboe and bassoon, still in slow tempo, turns the main theme into an expressive duet between the two woodwind instruments. A Rhythmic variation for trumpet and trombone follows, in which the tempo speeds up and the theme is treated with rhythmic intricacies of different kinds. The solo violin then plays a Variation in perpetual motion which, true to its name, is a virtuoso showpiece through and through. In a slow tempo, the horn follows with a Pastoral variation.
    A short interlude for winds—the counterpart of the earlier string interlude—leads to the reprise of the theme in its original form. Now however the double bass replaces the cello as the melody instrument. (The "symbolic chord" in the harp remains unchanged.) The final variation, in the form of a rondo for orchestra, unites the entire ensemble in a folk-like finale of lively colors and intense rhythms.

Peter Laki

Alma Deutscher (2005, England – )
Overture to Cinderella (2015, revised 2017)
Violin Concerto (2014-15, revised 2017)

    I am so excited to play my violin concerto with the Symphony Silicon Valley in the beautiful California Theatre!
    I wrote both by violin concerto and piano concerto ‘backwards’. I started with the third movement, because that’s the easiest, then the slow second movement, and only at the end the first movement, because it’s longest and most complex. I wrote the second and third movements already in 2014, when I was 9, and I performed them for the first time in Oviedo in Spain in January 2015 and shortly afterwards with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in Tel Aviv. The third movement (in G major) is very jolly and I hope it will make you laugh. The second movement (in E flat major, which is my favorite key) is melancholy and full of yearning. One of the motives there also appears in my opera Cinderella, in the aria of the Fairy.
    I wrote a version of the first movement of the violin concerto in September 2015, when I was 10, and I played it in Japan in 2015 with a string ensemble. But when I looked back at it earlier this year, I decided that there were a lot of things about it that I didn’t like very much. So I completely rewrote this movement in April and May this year, and played it for the first time in Austria this summer, with the Vienna Chamber Orchestra. The first movement is dark and dramatic, I thought of the main orchestral theme as a war theme. In the original version of this movement from 2015, the subordinate key was the relative major B-flat major. But I don’t particularly like the key of B-flat major, and also it doesn’t sound so good on the violin, so quite a few bits of the movement sounded muddy. When I looked at it again this year, I decided to change the structure completely and change the subordinate key to D major (the dominant), which is a wonderful key, full of sunshine. This gave me the inspiration for a completely different subordinate section, which is happy and radiant, and a clear contrast to the dark mood of the main key.

Alma Deutscher


Edward Elgar (Broadheath, England, 1857 – Worcester, 1934)
Variations on an Original Theme (‟Enigma” Variations), Op. 36 (1899)

    At its premiere led by Hans Richter in London on June 19, 1899, Elgar’s Variations were hailed as the greatest composition for large orchestra ever written by an Englishman. Audiences have delighted in Elgar’s music and his whimsey for more than a century now. They have been equally intrigued by what he withheld – namely, that the work had a secret that he refused to divulge.
    The story of the "Enigma" Variations began one night late in 1898 when Elgar was improvising at the piano at home in Worcestershire. His wife, Alice, was struck by a particular melody and asked her husband what it was. Elgar replied:  "Nothing—but something could be made of it." As he continued to develop his short theme, Elgar started to toy with the idea of how it might reflect the personalities of some of his friends.
    With one exception, each of the fourteen variations that follow the theme is preceded by a heading that identifies the people behind the music.
    The theme consists of two ideas: an expressive string melody that is constantly interrupted by rests on the downbeat (and that fits the words "Edward Elgar" surprisingly well), and a second melody that is more continuous, and is built of parallel thirds played by strings and woodwinds.

    Variation 1, "C.A.E."  is a portrait of Caroline Alice Elgar, the composer’s wife.

    Variation 2, "H.D.S-P." Hew David Steuart-Powell was a pianist and Elgar’s chamber music partner.

    Variation 3, "R.B.T." Richard Baxter Townshend, a writer and scholar who lived in Oxford and used to ride his tricycle around town with the bell constantly ringing.

    Variation 4, "W.M.B."  Elgar recalled William Meath Baker as “a country squire, gentleman and scholar.  This Variation was written after... [he] had ... hurriedly left the music-room with an inadvertent bang of the door.”

    Variation 5. "R.P.A."  Richard Penrose Arnold, son of the poet Matthew Arnold, was “a great lover of music, which he played (on the piano-forte) in a self-taught manner, evading difficulties but suggesting in a mysterious way the real feeling.  His serious conversation was continually broken up by whimsical and witty remarks.”

    Variation 6.  “Ysobel” Isabel Fitton was a viola player—thence the special treatment of the viola, both as a section and as a solo instrument.  

    Variation 7. “Troyte”  Arthur Troyte Griffith was an architect and a close friend of Elgar’s. "The uncouth rhythm of the drums and lower strings was really suggested by some (of his) maladroit essays to play the pianoforte; later the strong rhythm suggests the attempts of the instructor (E.E.) to make something like order out of chaos, and the final despairing 'slam' records that the effort proved to be vain."

    Variation 8.  "W.N."  The initials stand for Winifred Norbury, co-secretary of the Worcestershire Philharmonic Society; but the variation was inspired more by the 18th-century house where she  lived.  In the words of musicologist Julian Rushton, the house was the "epitome of an ideal civilisation in a rural environment." 

    Variation 9.  "Nimrod" This is the most famous variation in the set, often performed separately in England as a memorial to deceased celebrities.  "Nimrod" was August Jaeger, a German-born musician and Elgar’s closest friend who worked for Novello, the publisher of Elgar’s music.  (Jäger means "hunter" in German, and Nimrod is the "mighty hunter" mentioned in Genesis 10:9.)  Elgar turned the original theme into a hymn-like, soaring melody with a certain Beethovenian quality.

    Variation 10.  "Dorabella" Dora Penny was a young woman in her early twenties, to whom Elgar gave an affectionate nickname taken from Mozart’s opera Così fan tutte.

    Variation 11.  "G.R.S." George Robertson Sinclair was organist of Hereford Cathedral. "The first few bars were suggested by his great bulldog Dan (a well-known character) falling down the steep bank into the River Wye (bar 1); his paddling up stream to find a landing place (bars 2 and 3); and his rejoicing bark on landing (second half of bar 5). G.R.S. said 'set that to music.'  I did; here it is."

    Variation 12.  "B.G.N."  Basil Nevinson was a cellist who, with Steuart-Powell (variation 2), often played trios with Elgar, a violinist.  This is why in this variation the melody is entrusted to a solo cello, in “tribute to a very dear friend whose scientific and artistic attainments, and the wholehearted way they were put at the disposal of his friends, particularly endeared him to the writer.”

    Variation 13.  "***"  (Romanza)  The identity of the person behind the asterisks is the first, and smaller, enigma in Elgar’s work.  Elgar himself only said that the "asterisks take the place of the name of a lady who was, at the time of composition, on a sea voyage. The drums suggest the distant throb of the engines of a liner..."  Since some sketches contain the initials L.M.L., this would seem to refer to Lady Mary Lygon, an acquaintance of Elgar’s who was a member of the aristocracy, but several people who knew Elgar intimated that the variation had to do instead with a youthful "romanza" of the composer’s.

    Variation 14.  "E.D.U."  (Finale, Allegro, G major, 4/4)  "Edu" was the nickname Alice Elgar had given to her husband, who disguised it as a set of initials, to camouflage the fact that the last variation was a self-portrait.  The theme is turned here into a march with a sharp rhythmic profile.  There are two slower, lyrical episodes, after which the work ends with a grandiose climax.


The identity of the person inspiring Variation 13 is not the only enigma in this work.  Even more mysterious are the implications of the statement Elgar made at the time of the premiere.

The Enigma I will not explain—its "dark saying" must be left unguessed, and I warn you that the apparent connection between the variations and the Theme is often of the slightest texture; further, through and over the whole set another and larger theme "goes," but is not played—so the principal Theme never appears.

    In the 118 years since the first performance, many attempts have been made to elucidate these words and to find the hidden theme, but no suggested solution has ever gained universal acceptance.   And that is probably a good thing, for any definitive answer would mean the end of a mystery and therefore a letdown.
    One may wonder why Elgar said anything at all about a "larger theme" if he wasn’t prepared to reveal what it was.  But this very ambivalence was central to his personality. He was an extroverted Romantic, eager to express his innermost feelings, and at the same time a reserved, private man who would not allow anyone to know him completely.

Peter Laki



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