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Letter Variations
for solo piano

Work no. 77


    In late 2015 Timur Ismagilov asked me if I had any pieces for him to play at an upcoming concert. All I had for him were the fiendishly difficult Degu Sounds, a meditative, private Suomi Jukebox which would sound odd at any concert, and an assortment of smaller works which were unsuitable for various reasons. By this time, however, I already had some experience inventing a fictional composer: in Amelia Whiteheart pieces and Maurice Bellet's clarinet exercises. And I had the most bizarre idea to create an earlier version of myself. I looked at some of my oldest sketches of piano music, and asked myself: what if I were still the composer I was back then, but somehow able to complete these, not abandon them? And the answer was Letter Variations.

    The original idea was to compose variations without a theme or a harmonic progression to serve as the base of each piece. Instead, they're variations on ideas: the concept of repetition, the choreography of the pianist's hand positions, even the idea of variations as such (some of these variations are little variation sets of their own). So any number of these variations may be performed in any sequence, because they're all comments on the same. The catch is that the more variations are chosen for a performance, the harder they are to play. The music can be so diverse that a large group of variations will require at least some changes to dynamics and tempi (which are allowed); to perform the entire thing, the pianist would have to go literally against the score in at least a few of the pieces, in order to create a coherent sequence.

    A video of Timur's premiere performance (of 5 variations out of 20) is available below. Another piece from 2016, the ensemble work Symmetrical Sigils, also deals with the alphabet, but takes a very different approach based on calligraphy techniques.

    Letter Variations – PDF score   Youtube Video

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