Variations on the Variation of the Quadran Pavan and the Quadran Pavan by Bull and Byrd (1974)
two pianos

Robert Morris

Program Notes

As the title indicates, this composition is based on three pieces found in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book. John Bull"s "The Quadran Pavan" is taken as the "theme" of this work and comprises the first sixteen measures. The "Variation of the Quadran" by the same composer and The "Quadran Pavan" by William Byrd are used as source material for the rest of the piece. The latter two pieces, while somewhat different in style, texture, and compositional strategy, are highly related in the domains of motivic identity and local gesture. This suggests that either Byrd or Bull composed his variations on that of his colleague. It is difficult to say whether this was a matter of homage or competition or a mixture of both. I have attempted, nevertheless, to connote the friendly bickering between the two pieces (and, by implication, the composers) by producing passages wherein corresponding parts of each piece are presented simultaneously. Thus, melodic and harmonic deviations are allowed to clash in a heterophonic manner.

In composing Variations . . . by Byrd and Bull, I chose to work exclusively with the source material and remain in the G mixolydian/ionian tonality. In addition to the technique of juxtaposition mentioned earlier, I subjected the sources to many diverse compositional operations (such as re-registration, multiple doublings, inversion and/or retrogression, sampling, fragmentation, and the like) so that the pieces shape and details would range in a continuum from quotation to complete alteration. The medium of the two piano duet seemed best for this work due to the spatial separation yet timbral identity of the instruments. Thus, spatial relationships (concertato techniques) and textural possibilities play an important role.

In sum, I wanted to comment musically on the relationships between the activities of transcription, arranging, editing, orchestration, making variations and composing. It can be easily shown that any of these activities have resulted in the acculturation of one style or another in the history of Western art or popular music. Indeed, the source material itself is the result of such activities. The aural result of these operations on a source subject in this piece involve the evocation of other musics beside Elizabethan keyboard music; there are references to the piano style of late Beethoven, the neo-classic Stravinsky, post-Webern "pointillism", French rococo and impressionistic styles, minimalism, and so on.