The main idea of Midnight Variations is to present the evolution of tuba technique in an impressionistic way. This seven-minute piece for solo tuba and tape is a miniature tone-poem in that it is based on an extra-musical idea. I present the tuba as a personality--as live, human music in opposition to the mechanical music on the tape.
The title is rather a fanciful one. The word "variations" in this instance does not refer to a theme or melody which undergoes variations. Instead, as the work unfolds, the listener hears an evolution of tuba technique.
At the beginning, there are mysterious, primeva. sounds on the tape which the tuba imitates--not being yet a tuba. The tape then makes a tuba-like sound which the tuba also imitates. The interval expands from a unison to "the perfect bass-line interval". As the tuba practices this interaval, the tape slowly fades into rag-time which the tuba accompanies. The tuba soon abandons this imitative role, however, and takes off in another direction--the tape now accompanying the tuba with a "side-man" effect. The tuba becomes more and more virtuosic, eventually overcoming even the tape. This virtuosity ends with "explosions" on the tape, and both, overcome by their exertions, fall back to the primeval sounds of the beginning.
Midnight Variations was written at the request of Barton Cummings while he was in Vietnam with a service band. At that time I had not yet met him. He was a friend of one of my students who was also serving in Vietnam and who had mentioned to him that I liked to write for brass. He premiered the work, and later I also wrote Piltdown Fragments (tuba and tape) for him which he premiered at Carnegie Recital Hall in New York.
Midnight Variations, a work for tuba solo and electronic tape, has been recorded by Barton Cummings on CAPRA RECORDS: CRS-1210.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.
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