Saint-Saëns Variations - Parts & Score

Saint-Saëns Variations - Parts & Score

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Saint-Saëns Variations - Parts & Score
Youth Brass Band Championships 2020

Philip Sparke

In 2006 Philip Sparke was commissioned by the Sierra Vista High School Symphonic Band, Las Vegas, Nevada, to write a piece for performance during a visit to the school by the composer in March of the following year.

A free brief was given and Philip Sparke took the opportunity to fulfil a long-held ambition to write a set of variations, which he called Symphonic Metamorphosis, on the famous chorale from Saint-Saëns’ ‘Organ’ Symphony. However, things changed during the composition process; the composer writes: ‘ I had for about 15 years wanted to write a set of variations on the famous chorale from the ‘Organ’ Symphony but revisiting the work reminded me what a remarkable piece it is. Saint-Saens was criticised by his peers for being too reactionary, and while it is true that much of the symphony looks back to baroque and classical techniques, there are startling moments of power and originality in the work, especially in terms of harmony and orchestration. Even Saint Saëns’ greatest admirers would find it hard to deny that, even though it is extremely tightly constructed, the symphony has some less-inspired passages, but I was so moved by the work’s highlights that I decided to include more than just the chorale melody in my new work.

So Symphonic Metamorphosis started out as an original set of variations for band but this ambition was gradually subsumed by the power of Saint-Saëns’ music, particularly the slow movement, and the piece closes with a finale which has been reorganised and rescored from the majestic closing pages of the symphony.

In 2009 the composer reworked the piece for brass band. The resulting Saint-Saëns Variations has been simplified, shortened and in many places completely recomposed, to distil the essence of the symphony even further and allow lower section bands to enjoy the power of Saint-Saens’ masterpiece in an approachable, yet essentially faithful, work.

The Youth Brass Band Championships will be held on Saturday 28 March at Magna Science Adventure Centre in Sheffield, with the format remaining unchanged following its successful introduction at Warwick School.

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