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variation form

Baroque forms

Variation and Variation Forms

Variation is a formal technique where material is repeated in an altered form. The changes may involve harmony, melody, counterpoint, rhythm, timbre, orchestration or any combination of these. The variant is found both as a technique, and as form.

Variation Forms

Variation forms include ground bass
, passacaglia, chaconne, and theme and variations. Ground bass, passacaglia and chaconne are typically based on brief ostinato motifs providing a repetitive harmonic basis and are also typically continuous evolving structures. 'Theme and variation' forms are however based specifically on melodic variation, in which the fundamental musical idea, or theme, is repeated in altered form or accompanied in a different manner. 'Theme and variation' structure generally begins with a theme (which is itself sometimes preceded by an introduction), typically between eight and thirty-two bars in length; each variation, particularly in music of the eighteenth century and earlier, will be of the same length and structure as the theme. This form may in part have derived from the practical inventiveness of musicians; "Court dances were long; the tunes which accompanied them were short. Their repetition became intolerably wearisome, and inevitably led the player to indulge in extempore variation and ornament"; however, the format of the dance required these variations to maintain the same duration and shape of the tune.
Variation forms can be written as 'free-standing' pieces for solo instruments or ensembles, or can constitute a movement
of a larger piece. Most jazz music is structured on a basic pattern of theme and variations.

Although the first isolated example emerged in the 14th century, works in theme-and-variation form first emerge in the history of classical music
in the early sixteenth century. Possibly the earliest published example is the "diferencias" for vihuela by Luis de Narváez (1538). A favorite form of variations in Renaissance music was divisions, a type in which the basic rhythmic beat is successively divided into smaller and smaller values. The basic principle of beginning with simple variations and moving on to more elaborate ones has always been present in the history of the variation form, since it provides a way of giving an overall shape to a variation set, rather than letting it just form an arbitrary sequence.
Keyboard works in variation form were written by a number of 16th-century English composers, including William Byrd
, Hugh Aston and Giles Farnaby. Outstanding examples of early baroque variations are the "ciaccone" of Claudio Monteverdi and Heinrich Schütz. Two famous variation sets from the Baroque era, both originally written for harpsichord, are George Frideric Handel's The Harmonious Blacksmith set, and Johann Sebastian Bach's Goldberg Variations, BWV 988.
In the Classical era, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
wrote a great number of variations, such as the first movement of his Piano Sonata in A, K. 331, or the finale of his Clarinet Quintet, K 581. Joseph Haydn specialized in sets of double variations, in which two related themes, usually minor and major, are presented and then varied in alternation; outstanding examples are the second movement of his Symphony No. 103, the Drumroll, and the Variations in F minor for piano, H XVII-6.
Ludwig van Beethoven
wrote many variation sets in his career. Some were independent sets, for instance the Diabelli Variations, Op. 120. Others form single movements or parts of movements in larger works, such as first movement of the Piano Sonata No. 12, Op. 26, or the variations in the final movement of the Third Symphony (Eroica). Variation sets also occur in several of his late works, such as the slow movement of his String Quartet No. 12, Op. 127, the second movement of his final Piano Sonata No. 32, Op. 111, and the slow movement of the Ninth Symphony.
Schubert, Chopin, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Schoenberg, Stravinsky  also composed variations.

                         J.S. Bach - Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor BWV 582

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