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The Raymond Variations For Piano Based O…n themes of ambroise thomas

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The Raymond Variations for Piano (Set 1) Received its world premiere on 2nd December 2015 at the 1901 Arts Club London, performed by Lorraine Womack-Banning as part of a memorial tribute concert to her late husband Raymond Banning (Professor of pianoforte at Trinity College), the concert helped raise funds for two of the charities that supported Raymond during his illness: the Tibbs Dementia Service and the British Association for Performing Arts Medicine.
The Variations are based on the three Andantino themes which form a central part of the Raymond Overture written in 1851 by French composer Ambroise Thomas: 1811-1896, (although the third andantino theme in the overture is in itself a variation of the second theme). There are nine piano variations in total, which include a mix of both full and short partial variations (including a very short declamatory two chord introductory variation). The variations are not numbered (or set-apart) in the conventional manner, rather they form part of a continuous whole, and are separated only by bridge passages and/or cadence points. The variations last around seven minutes in duration, and strongly exploit the passionate elements of Thomas’s themes. They are based predominately in the home key of D minor, but also take advantage of many 20th and 21st century harmonic techniques where deemed appropriate: e.g. added note chords, cluster chords, percussive chords, and melodic deflection. (There is even some judicious use of consecutive perfect fifths for completeness!). In particular, the interval of the major 7th (the most distinctive interval in the main andantino theme from the overture) is heard in various different guises throughout the variations: this includes its inversion the minor 2nd which has a very distinctive sharp dissonant quality, and much play is made of these intervals – especially to humorous effect in variation 8 (the joker in the pack) heard some three quarters into the set. Here the dissonant interval is pounded out double forte and can give the impression of the wrong notes being performed! This in turn leads to some boisterous cluster harmonic instability, before quietly beginning variation 9 which brings the Set to a close.
The actual andantino themes from the overture in their original form, are not heard directly in the variations, although the short eight bar 2nd variation heard immediately after the introduction, is the most similar to the main andantino theme, (and inspired by William Artus). As such, these are very much ‘Variations’ and not ‘Theme(s) and Variations’; they were some two and a half years in the making.

S. G. Potts lives in the North East of England and has only in the last few years returned to composition following an almost 20 year period of absence from music. He has studied advanced composition, traditional and 20th century harmony, and holds a Master’s degree in music. Works currently in progress include: a mixed choir setting of H. W. Longfellow’s Christmas Bells; and early sketches for Set 2 of the Raymond Variations.
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