Variations on ‘Take the A Train’ – David Briggs (2019)

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Variations on ‘Take the A Train’ (2019) – live in concert at St John the Divine, NYC – 29th October 2019.

I’m thrilled to propose to you this iMovie of my new Variations on ‘Take the A-train’, which received its first performance last Tuesday night.

I have used Billy Strayhorn’s famous 1939 theme as a basis for an introduction, theme and seven contrasting variations.

It is more of a metamorphosis than a straight adaption. The components consist of:

Six principal ideas from Duke Ellington’s famous arrangement, tautly-condensed and filtered as if through an early C21st harmonic prism.
Variation 1: Harmonization, on the vibrant ‘Plenum’ of the instrument (i.e. all the Foundations and Mixture stops, producing a rich, brilliant sonic palette). The middle section “hur-ry, hur-ry, hur-ry, take the A-train” modulates to the
mediant, like in Duke Ellington’s arrangement, and features a jazzy translations of the original melody, on the incisive solo reed stops.
Variation 2: Très vif – An extremely energetic virtuosic tour de force, on the tutti. The movement retains a similar harmonic contour to the original Ellington, but the theme is hinted at rather than stated outright. Particularly challenging for the feet, this movement always has a dramatic and pleasing effect on my Fitbit 2 step counter!
Variation 3: An expressive treatment of the second theme, wrapped up in modern jazz harmonies, with the theme proposed by the 16 and 8 foot Clarinet stops. There are some decidedly Poulencian moments.
Variation 4: A Ravel-inspired Intermezzo, reminiscent of a glass of chilled Möet & Chandon, where the principal theme is wrapped up, incognito, in the figuration of the right hand repeated sextuplets.
Variation 5: Fugato sur le Grand Jeux – All the reed stops (Bombardes, Trompettes and Clairons) and Cornets vie for supremacy in this contrapuntal exposition of the first theme. The harmonic style leaps back about 250 years to the days of Louis XVIth and the composers working in France around that time (Nicholas de Grigny, François Couperin), until the final cadence of the movement, where the 21st century genesis of the music confidently reasserts its authority.
Variation 6: A short and bubbly little Scherzando on the combined 8ft Flute stops. The principal theme squeezes in an appearance on the 8’ and 2’ reeds on the Pedal.
Variation 7: A lush Adagio, featuring double-pedal (each foot has a different part), with rich harmony, as if supersaturated in garlic, and the theme clearly stated on the mutation stops in the right hand. There is an emotional harmonic crescendo (on all the rich 8ft stops), which dissipates into a calm ending.
Variation 8: An extrovert Toccata, where the various thematic elements combine and reach an ecstatic conclusion.

Sorry the recording is slightly distant – but nevertheless you can get a good impression of the impressive impact the Walker Technical Company organ has in our matchless acoustic!

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