Skip to main content
Search

Hutton Honors College

 — Indiana University


MUS-N 399: Mathematical Approaches to Music
Professor Andrew Mead*
Section 5628 TuTh 11:15am-12:30pm M 340

* OPEN ONLY to Music Honors Students; meets with MUS-T 410

T410: Variations on Variations: A Survey of Strategies and Tactics in Sets of Variations from 1700 - 1990

Variation sets as a rule have not borne the same cachet associated with more prestigious compositional undertakings, such as Sonata-Allegro form or fugal writing. Nevertheless, many composers have written sets of variations, either as freestanding compositions or as movements of larger works. This course is an exploration of music from J. S. Bach to Robert Simpson that covers the wide range of approaches to writing sets of variations to be found over the past 300 years.

Variation sets can all too easily be dismissed as superficial recompositions of a brief, closed musical entity - a "theme." And indeed, many sets are simply a venue for figurative display, or flashy virtuosity. Since each variation is usually closed and in the same key as the theme, sets of variations can be dismissed as collections of miniatures, with no overarching concern for the kinds of large-scale long-range pitch relations that dominate our attention in sonata movements. But this doesn't mean that we should not be concerned with large-scale issues in sets of variations; it simply shifts our attention to what is creating long-range structure from the domain of pitch to other potentially compelling aspects of music making.

Indeed, many composers have treated sets of variations as places to explore some remarkable compositional solutions, as well as to display some of their greatest intellectual virtuosity. From J. S. Bach's Canonic Variations on Von Himmel Hoch and Goldberg Variations through Beethoven's Diabelli Variations, Brahms's Handel Variations, to multiple variation sets by the likes of Dvorak, Max Reger, Arnold Schoenberg and Rachmaninoff, we will explore the changing strategies that composers have employed over the years.

Section 4371
Section 4371