MICHAEL DENHOFF (b.1955): Bach Variations, Op. 114.
Catalogue Number: 01T055
Format: SACD hybrid
Description: Denhoff's hour-long Variations joins the rarefied but distinguished canon of modern large variation sets for piano by the likes of Frederic Rzewski, Ronald Stevenson (e.g. 11P069), Franz Hummel (12Q059), and (by a bit of a stretch) Sorabji. The structure of Denhoff's work is in a way more conventional than these examples (especially the last); each discrete variation is of roughly the dimensions and form of the theme. His free harmonic language is closest to Rzewski, but percentage-wise in duration less tonal, and only a few variations actually sound much like him. The theme is the Sarabande from Bach's Fifth Cello Suite transcribed for the piano in two parts, which brackets the variations, ending the work in a further version with radical octave shifts. The intervening twenty-eight variations follow a numerologically determined structure in which number symbolism in Christian theology can be found (seven times three, plus an additional seven 'fantasy' variations every fourth movement), along with another sequence of variations which uses a series of intervals in tribute to Bach's fondness for canonic writing. This coded structure is not readily apparent, but it provides a pleasing sense of proportion and contour. Each variation is also a dedication piece - to composer and performer colleagues and friends, relatives, and artists in various disciplines. These dedications have something of a portrait character, for example using traits of the styles of Kurtág and Lachenmann in their respective variations. In composing a work firmly grounded in tradition and paying tribute to Bach, Denhoff has succeeded in creating music that inhabits "a realm of intellectual (and spiritual) experiences" which relates to Bach's own intentions and achievements in composition. Birgitta Wollenweber (piano).