These variations, written in Autumn 1963 for a recital in Newcastle-upon-Tyne the following February, started out in life as a set of studies - thus, many of them have étude-like characteristics, such as an emphasis on sixths or octaves, or playing a melody and chordal accompaniment in the same hand. They are continuous, in direct homage to one of my favourite works (Beethoven's 32 Variations in C minor), but fall into three main sections after the slowish introduction: fast and rhythmic, slower, and finally fast and rhythmic again, leading to a so-called 'Cadenza' and a short coda.
The work is based on two thematic ideas, rather than a single extended tune, and these are the opening chordal phrase and the answering shake at the extreme ends of the keyboard. These two elements are expanded alternately, always returning to the starting-point, and this idea of development by expansion and contraction, a basic arch shape, dominates the piece.
John Ogdon has written: 'The quasi-hypnotic repetition of [the] opening motif recalls more the effect of an Indian Raga than that of most Western music', and this was certainly an influence on the composer at that time. The work is dedicated to the composer's piano teacher for 17 years, Gordon Green.
Programme Note © 1988 by John McCabe