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LA Variations is essentially variations on two chords, each consisting of six notes. Together they cover all twelve notes of a chromatic scale. Therefore the basic material of LA Variations has an ambiguous character: sometimes (most of the time, actually) it is modal (hexatonic), sometimes chromatic, when the two hexachords are sued together as a twelve-tone structure.
This ambiguity, combining serial and non-serial thinking, is characteristic of my work since the mid-eighties, but LA Variations tilts the balance drastically towards the non-serial.
This piece, some nineteen minutes of music scored for a large orchestra, including a contrabass clarinet and a synthesizer, is very clear in its form and direct in its expression.
The two hexachords are introduced in the opening measures of the piece together in the chromatic phenotype. Alto flute, English horn, bass clarinet, and two bassoons, shadowed by three solo violas, play a melody which sound slike a kind of synthetic folk music, but in fact is a horizontal representation of the two hexachords transposed to the same pitch.
Some of the variations that follow are based on this melody, others are the deeper, invisible (or inaudible) aspects of the material. There are also elements that never change, like the dactyl rhythm first heard on the timpani and percussion halfway through the piece.
This is a short description of the geography of LA Variations:
1) The two hexachords together as an ascending scale. Movement slows down to
2) Quasi folk-music episode (which I described before).
3) First Chorale (winds only)
4) Big Chord I. The two hexachords are interpreted three times in three different ways in a very large chord.
5) Scherzando, leggiero.
6) A machine that prepares the even semi-quaver movement of
7) Variation of the melody in trumpets and Violin I.
8) Fastest section of the piece,[quarter-note = 150]. First woodwinds in the highest register, then bass instruments in the lowest register. An acrobatic double bass solo leads to
9) Variation for winds, percussion, harp, celesta.
10) Canon in three different tempos. Scored for chamber ensemble.
11) A tutti string passage leads to
Big Machine I. Percussion prepares the mantra rhythm: [eighth-note, two sixteenth-notes, eighth-rest, eighth-note, two sixteenth-notes, eighth-rest]
12) Second Chorale.
13) A new aspect of the melody in unison strings.
14) Tempo [quarter-note=125]. Canon à 3.
15) Big Machine II. Probably the most joyful music I've ever written.
16) Big Chord II. This time two different interpretations of the hexachords.
Repeated mantra rhythm in timpani, roto-toms, and log drums grow to maximum power.
17) Coda. Two hexachords together as in the beginning. Scored for eight muted cellos, eight muted violins, and piccolo.
I wrote LA Variations specifically for the player of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. I'm very proud of the virtuosity and power of my orchestra.
© Esa-Pekka Salonen