This must really be called a student work since it was mainly written in the Autumn of 1957 while I was still studying with Iain Hamilton, to whom it is dedicated. Later I was to have lessons with Mátyás Seiber: and he made a crucial suggestion about re-writing the Finale, before I finally finished the piece in July 1958. It was first performed in an SPNM concert at Cheltenham in July 1959, by Cecil Aronowitz and Margaret Kitchen who together gave it its first broadcast and publicly performed by many artist both in this country and America.
In 1957 I knew I had newly discovered the music of Schoenberg and his pupils and I knew at once that they were to show me the way forward for my music; as, indeed, they have ever since. The revelation was primarily an emotional experience for me, and however imperfectly their influence was received, it was obviously reflected in the all-out chromaticism (new for me then), in the many chains of twelve notes, or lesser chromatic formations (which do not here amount to serial working, and have only rarely done so since), in the characteristic harmonic and rhythmic formations, the wide and sometimes angular intervals of the melodies and in general the introverted romanticism. Anyway, I knew then that this was the sort of music that I henceforth would want to write, and so I called these Variations my Opus One.
The declamatory Introduction leads into the Theme, heard on the viola. Six Variations follow, of which No.3 is the most violent, and No.4 the most sustainedly lyrical. The recitative-like sixth variation leads into the Finale, a more extended movement. The Theme, returning on the piano, leads to a climax at which there is a citation from Beethoven’s C minor Variations for piano. Then their characteristics sequence of chords is heard on the piano as an accompaniment to the final statement of my own theme on the viola in the closing bars of the work.