Beginning with a simple, unadorned statement of the theme ‘Greensleeves‘, this setting of the traditional tune by Ben Williams-Stacey soon stumbles quite far off course.
Variation 1 (‘Inflexible‘) pits a staccatissimo version of the tune against a languid, interlocking counterpoint. A fragment of the theme in the bass end repeats, before ending with an explosive expanding arpeggio.
Variation 2 (‘Broadly‘) explores new harmonic territory, beginning with a horn/trombone duet that also introduces the 3-against-2 rhythm that reappears throughout. At letter D, there is an short interlude that prepares us for the first statement of the B section of the theme, led by the trombone. The tuba follows – but things quickly break down, the theme fragmenting and settling on an unstable sonority. A lonely trumpet tentatively questions this, but is answered by a Bartókian yell.
After all this, Variation 3 (‘Pompous‘) is a slightly ironic take on the more traditional ‘Air Varie’. The theme is embellished by the trumpets in bravura fashion, followed by moments in the spotlight for the tuba, trombone and horn. A fanfare figure sounds over shifting harmonies before a final fragment from the melody ends the piece triumphantly.
Difficulty: Advanced. Fast changes of style and tempo, and some fast technical passages.