This set of Contemporary pieces was a fascinating recent discovery. Entitled Variations for Judith for Piano, 11 short reflections on “Bist du bei mir” by G H Stölzel arranged by J S Bach. The collection was the brainchild of British composer Diana Burrell, who wanted to present a very special leaving gift to Judith Serota when she retired from her position as Executive Director of the Spitalfields Music Festival in East London, in 2007 (a job which she had enjoyed for 20 years).
On the Introductory page, Diana Burrell explains: “There can be few people in the world whose love and enthusiasm for music exceeds Judith’s, and knowing that she had recently become a keen student of the piano, I thought that a specially-written collection of new compositions for herself to play would seem an appropriate gift. I consequently approached all of the Spitalfields Festival Artistic Directors asking them to write a short variation”.
Burrell was the Artistic Director of the Spitalfields Festival from 2006-2009. Chris Sayers apparently chose the theme, and organist David Titterington produced the realisation of the original Stölzel tune, immortalised by Bach. The collection was presented to Judith Serota after a performance given by Andrew Blankfield at her leaving party in November 2007. Since then, four new works have been added to the Klavierbüchlein (all written by composers who have been connected to the festival).
“I hope it (this collection) will also provide much joy and inspiration to all pianists who enjoy exploring something fresh and different”, concludes Diana Burrell. It’s so refreshing to find eminently playable works which offer the chance to discover new keyboard sonorities.
The Variations have been written by an illustrious group of composers; Richard Rodney Bennett, Michael Berkeley, Diana Burrell, Anthony Burton, Peter Maxwell Davies, Jonathan Dove, Stephen Johns, Thea Musgrave, Tarik O’Regan, Anthony Payne, and Judith Weir. Totally different stylistically, the piano pieces are unified by the Stölzel theme, and merely observing the differing approaches and compositional techniques employed by each composer, proves compelling.
Particular favourites (for me) are Jonathan Dove’s beautiful and serene account of the theme (which is No. 10 of the set); essentially diatonic chords laced with thematic material, accompanied by quaver filigree. Tarik O’Regan’s Diomedes (No. 9) is equally effective; Slow moving, lyrical, and encompassing a wide keyboard geography. As mentioned in my Sinfini article, Judith Weir’s contribution entitled To Judith, from Judith (No. 5) is exciting, feisty, spiky and rhythmical. You can listen to a couple of the works from the collection below, which have been recorded by pianist Melvyn Tan. The Variations are of varying levels of difficulty, but they are well within any fairly accomplished amateur pianist’s grasp.
Variations for Judith affords an excellent ‘introduction’ to Contemporary music, and every single book sold makes a contribution to Dimbleby Cancer Care (in memory of Richard Dimbleby). You can order your copy today – just click here!
For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my two-book piano course, Play it again: PIANO (Schott). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, 49 progressive pieces from approximately Grade 1 – 8 level are featured, with at least two pages of practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.
You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.