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Theme and Variations

Sensible composers don’t want their audiences to be bored. A piece of music must take us on a journey, but we won’t stay along for the ride if the music doesn’t keep our interest.  And no single musical quality or idea will do the trick. We need contrast.  We need variety. The theme and variations form has been providing composers of every style and nationality with a framework for variety and contrast for more than five centuries.  It’s also provided them with a challenge:  can you build a substantial and compelling piece starting with just one simple theme or melody?  “Yes,” they’ve answered, and by taking their themes and decorating them, chopping them up and rearranging them, and varying their tempos, rhythms, and harmonies, among other factors, they’ve proved the point countless times. They’ve also proved that they can be devious:  sometimes the theme remains easy to hear throughout the variations, but sometimes it virtually disappears, and becomes a kind of hidden musical scaffolding.  Either way, when the variations are well done, they lift our spirits and reach our hearts...  and keep our interest.

A Minute with Miles - a production of ETV Radio made possible by the JM Smith Corporation.

Miles Hoffman is the founder and violist of the American Chamber Players, with whom he regularly tours the United States, and the Virginia I. Norman Distinguished Visiting Professor of Chamber Music at the Schwob School of Music, in Columbus, Georgia. He has appeared as viola soloist with orchestras across the country, and his solo performances on YouTube have received well over 700,000 views.