These variations for a large orchestra were completed in December 1972, and are therefore a comparatively recent work. They were written for the Croydon Arts Festival of 1973 and received their first performance that spring with the LSO conducted by Vernon Handley. I have added the word 'metamorphic' to the title, because the three themes that constitute the opening section of the work, called Elements, undergo a greater transformation during the forty-minute work than the simple word 'variations' implies.
The three elements on which the succeeding sections of variations are based are these:
(a) a long lyrical cantilena for solo oboe, which opens the work
(b) a two-bar phrase, first heard on the horns, and then on the strings, and lastly
(c) a cluster pattern of four semitones close together introduced by the woodwind.
The succeeding 14 section all have a title which indicates the general mood of that particular variation. They are difficult to remember without a written programme note, but I name there in their order just to show the variety to which these elements are subjected. The titles are as follows: Ballet, Assertion, Speculations, Interjections, Scherzo I, Contemplation, Polonaise leading to Funeral Processions (these last two, Polonaise and Funeral Processions, are easy to spot). After the Funeral March comes what I call 'Cool Interlude', woodwind playing softly to a solo viola, then solo cello, then solo violin obbligato. This is followed by Scherzo II, with prominent wood blocks supporting the brass, and next Duet for solo violin and solo cello accompanied by soft pizzicato chords (this too is easy to spot). The last two sections are marked Dedication and Affirmation. The Dedication (for brass alone) confirms the dedication at the top of the score - 'To George and Ann Dannatt in token of a long and cherished friendship'. I make use of their initials, G.D. and A.D.
The last section, Affirmation, starts in the grand style, but the work does not end in the same mood. It fades quietly away after a climax, marked by a stroke on the tam-tam, and at the end there is a repetition of the opening solo oboe cantilena. Its high Bb is heard pianissimo, alone, and withdraws into silence.
© 1975 Sir Arthur Bliss