Program notes

Nocturnes and Variations, for piano, Opus 96 (2014)

  1. I. Nocturne – Lento
  2. II. Variations – Sostenuto e misterioso
  3. III. Nocturne – Liquido (quasi senza misura)


Nocturnes and Variations was composed in January – March 2014 at the Leighton Studios, Banff Centre for the Arts and in Forest Lodge, Sydney. It was commissioned by Stephen Emmerson with the assistance of a grant from Griffith University and the work is dedicated to Stephen. He gave the premiere performance in October 2014 at the Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University, Brisbane. The work is about 15 minutes duration.

Composer’s Note

“In unlit places without streetlamps or yelping neon, night is profound and often comes as ease.

Relief from looking out for and away from.” [Toni Morrison, Love]

The two outer movements of this work are slow and dream-like nocturnes and the middle, larger movement is a set of highly compressed variations.

The two nocturnes are muted and atmospheric night pieces that unfold slowly but each has a more jubilant passage at its centre. It was fascinating for me to return to the “Nocturne” as a form – my last attempt had been as a student of George Crumb in Philadelphia in 1982 where he had set me the task of creating Chopin ‘forgeries’. Chopin’s subtle use of dissonance and the lucidity of his piano colouration was something into which George had fantastic insight.

The outer movements frame the larger, central variations movement. In all there are 31 variations of four measures each, based on the harmonically ambiguous but simple four measure chordal theme that opens the movement. Each variation draws on the opening material of the theme but also takes up the material of the surrounding variations; hopefully, that achieves a kind of organic flow and dramatic shape in the overall set of variations.

© Andrew Schultz, 2015.