Kongsgaard Variations (for string quartet)
Kongsgaard Variations was composed in 2006 and dedicated to John and Maggy Kongsgaard. (John Kongsgaard is a Napa Valley winemaker and co-founder of the Arietta winery.) The Prazak Quartet gave the premiere performance, and the work has been recorded by the Stenhammar Quartet. The composer has written the following note:
“The label on a bottle of Arietta wine displays a couple of bars from the Arietta theme from Beethoven’s last piano sonata in his own handwriting. So when I was asked to compose a piece in honor of this fabulous wine, this theme would naturally have a key role in the piece.
“But whereas Beethoven’s piece is a set of rigorously carried out variations with a steadily increasing intensity curve where the Arietta theme – serenely beautiful and calm in the beginning, culminating in what can best be described as the first ragtime in music history before fading back to serenity – the Kongsgaard Variations are more like meditations, with no directional process. The music floats aimlessly through the centuries, displaying reminiscences of Baroque, folk-music, Renaissance, and Romanticism, but with Beethoven’s Arietta theme as the musical epicenter.
“Although scarcely audible, the piece actually starts with music directly derived from the Arietta theme, leaving out the melody but maintaining the same rhythmical flow and harmonic landscape, as if Beethoven’s theme is dreaming about yet another variation on itself…
“Arietta means ‘little song,’ and these beginning bars are then cloned and mutated into other ‘little songs’ that occur on several occasions in the piece. After the introductory section, the first violin takes on a simple, thoughtful solo motif, and again, this is cloned and mutated and appears later in the piece in different shapes.
“Then comes a viola solo, joyful, as in trance, leading into a section where all instruments sing the praise of wine and music…
“Shortly after the middle of the piece, we hear the Arietta theme for the first time, but strangely distorted and stretched, in the same way a Cubistic painting twists the motif it uses – it almost sounds as if the music is being played backwards.
“A simple chorale follows which lands us in the music that started out the piece, and then comes finally the first part of the Beethoven theme in C major, in its pure, original shape, succeeded by the second part of the theme in A minor, but here again distorted in the same way as earlier, before the music completely vaporizes into a mist of harmonics.”
“Kongsgaard Variations is warmly dedicated to John and Maggy Kongsgaard.”