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Variations et Fugue sur un thème original, Op 42

'Stojowski: Piano Music' (CDA67437)
Stojowski: Piano Music
Part 01. Theme: Andante con moto
Part 02. Variation 1: Maestoso
Part 03. Variation 2: Poco più mosso
Part 04. Variation 3: Andante assai
Part 05. Variation 4: Allegro agitato
Part 06. Variation 5: Non troppo presto ma con fuoco
Part 07. Variation 6: Vivace
Part 08. Variation 7: Presto
Part 09. Variation 8: Lento, ma non troppo, rubato
Part 10. Variation 9: Andantino con moto
Part 11. Variation 10: Allegro moderato
Part 12. Fugue: [untitled]

Variations et Fugue sur un thème original, Op 42
The Variations et Fugue sur un thème original, Op 42 proves Stojowski to be a master of counterpoint and fugue. The jurors at the Conservatoire National, who had conferred upon him the first prize for these skills in 1889, could not have been disappointed. The composition is a set of ten variations based on an original theme and followed by a fugue. It begins in E minor and ends in E major. The theme’s easy-to-follow question (antecedent) and answer (consequent) phrases make it possible for the listener to keep track of its progress throughout the work.

In this composition Stojowski shows himself to be a daring composer. His harmonies are bold, even shocking at times, and clearly signify the composer’s advance into the language of twentieth-century modernism. The penultimate chord in the coda, for example, is a ninth chord with an augmented fifth which contains a whole-tone pitch collection. Played in the piano’s lower register, this dissonant chord has a stunning jazz-like effect.

The theme is written in the unusual metre of 7/4. This technique, however, appears to have more in common with the written-in rubato typical of Brahms than with an effort to impress the listener with effects associated with mixed metres. In the sixth variation there is the simultaneous use of 20/16 metre in the right hand with 4/4 metre in the left hand. In fact, this is merely an alternate way of notating an effect which other composers before him had simply rendered as five against four. In the ninth variation, Stojowski unexpectedly throws off modernist conventions and returns to his Romantic roots in a movement highly reminiscent of Chopin’s Prelude in B flat major, Op 28 No 21, with its style of a nocturne. At the end of the tenth and final variation, Stojowski uses harmonics by instructing the performer to hold an arpeggiated chord with the sostenuto pedal, depress the keys of certain notes without striking the strings, and then suddenly clear the pedal. This results in a barely audible harmonic effect, possibly only appreciated in the auditorium’s front row. A similar effect was earlier achieved by Debussy and Schoenberg.

The subject of the fugue, which begins in E minor, is derived from the original theme.

Variations et Fugue sur un thème original was first published in Paris by Heugel in 1923. It is dedicated to the composer’s wife Louisa, ‘A ma très chère femme’.

from notes by Joseph A Herter © 2004

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