VARIATIONS SUR UN THÈME ORIGINAL „F.A.E.” POUR LE PIANOFORTE                    audioscoreexemplary      exhibits Phases A, B, C, and D activity

[click on the image below to download a printable .pdf version of the complete score]

In looking for a theme, the tertiary nature of the F.A.E. motto led me towards experiments at the piano in tertiary meter, resembling a Baroque sarabande. See the original sketch here below.

Recorded live in Kassel, Germany on March 6th, 2016


an excerpt of Schumann's first Variation from the Études Symphonique, op. 13

The first three variations of F.A.E. are loosely modeled after Schumann's Variations symphonique, Op. 13. However, in contrast to Schumann's first variation, this first variation utilizes a different left-hand rhythm. The initiation of the theme as a legato higher-voice resembles Schumann's variation. Perhaps because of the relative brevity resulting from the tertiary meter, I immediately departed from the 16-bar format of the theme and wrote a 24-bar first variation, another aspect that contrasts Schumann.

VAR. 1

my first sketch of the left-hand music that turned out to be Variation 1 (ca. November or December 2014):

and the first sketch of Var. 1 that was legible enough to have been used for practice purposes as well:

October 14th, 2014  St. Gallen, Switzerland

excerpt from a dinner table conversation between Regula, a friend of Rudolf Lutz, and myself:


Regula: "Wie ist es als berüflicher Musiker immer unterwegs zu sein?"

Bobby:  "Mir gefällt es, nur fühle ich mich manchmal frei aber einsam"


The phrase frei aber einsam was used amongst certain musicians in the nineteenth century, as evidenced by the F.A.E. sonata composed in Düsseldorf in 1853 by Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms, and Schumann's pupil Albert Dietrich. The piece was composed by all three for their mutual friend and violinist Joseph Joachim who had adapted the phrase frei aber einsam as his personal motto. There is no way of knowing whether or not I was quoting Joachim's motto consciously or simply using the phrase while speaking German thanks to its familiarity and availability as part of my active vocabulary in the language. I chose to pay hommage to the F.A.E. motto with a composition in the form of an original theme and variations.

The layering of musical activities – taking place at the piano as well as engaging with various modes of notating, including sketching and engraving – emerges as an engraved score at a certain moment in the creative process. This document displays elements from the various musical activities that took place before its creation, and is not the final word in the creative process of the F.A.E. Variations because the multiple instances of realizations of it in performance allow for repetition but also difference.

The second variation is closely modeled after Schumann's second variation, especially rhythmically. Incidentally, I only noticed after engraving it that I notated the rhythm differently than Schumann by using a 12/8 time signature instead of common time with sextuplets. This variation continues in the 24-bar format of the first, also with a kind of recapitulation in measure 17.

an excerpt of Schumann's second Variation from the Études Symphonique, Op. 13

VAR. 2

an early sketch of the first phrase of this variation:

below:  the first sketch of the whole variation

some harmonizations of chromatic bass lines, including a copy of a sketch found in Schumann's sketchbooks, and the first written setting of the fugue theme with the chromatic bass line:

one more initial attempt at harmonizing a chromatic bass line, and setting the fugue theme in a micro-canonic manner:

an initial sketch of the fugue theme inverted:

looking for a third contrapuntal voice, the countersubject, the first four bars of the fugue:

Most if not all of the notated music (see here below) was first realized at the piano and then translated into notation. More simply put, I composed this set of variations at the piano. This process unfolded according to the following timeline:


-The theme was first notated as a sketch in October 2014.

-The following year was spent sketching variations, of which six ended up in the final composition.

-During the same year, the fugue was sketched and edited.

-In November 2015, I engraved the composition in pen on manuscript paper.


Although the F.A.E. Variations is a through-composed piece of music (with the exception of the final cadenza and the option to perform extemporized music at that point), I have purposefully kept many aspects of the notation related to specific parameters vague so that the way they are approached can be decided during the piano playing. These parameters include tempo, dynamics and articulation..


The F.A.E. Variations was composed with the intention of creating music appropriate for concert performance that could be programmed next to a large-scale work by Schumann.

Inspired by the rhythmic buoyancy and drive in Schumann's third variation (referring to the numbering in the 1852 version of the Études symphoniques), I strove to also compose a canon at the unison, two beats apart, between the hands. This variation abandons the 24-bar structure of the first two and extends into a longer ABA structure with options to repeat.

VAR. 3

an excerpt of Schumann's third variation from the Études Symphonique, Op. 13

the initial sketch of the third variation

VAR. 4

The fourth variation combines rhythms taken from Schumann's Impromptus, op. 5 and the Études symphonique, Op. 13. This variation abandons the ABA structure apparent in the first three and adopts a binary form, reflective of many of the variations in the Études symphonique.

an excerpt of the 12th piece from Schumann's Impromptus, Op. 5

an excerpt of the fifth variation from Schumann's Étude Symphonique, Op. 13

a sketch  made later  of music that was eventually inserted between the third and second to last staves on the above page:

above:  the first legible sketch of Variation Four

below:  the initial sketch of music which similar rhythmic content to the fourth variation

The sketches of the fugue are here below:

VAR. 5

In the process of modeling this variation after Bach's fourth variation from the Goldberg Variations, I returned to a familiar structure from the first two variations of the F.A.E., only this time notated in 48 bars instead of 24.

an excerpt of Bach's fourth variation from the Goldberg Variations

initial sketches for the fifth variation including some harmonic progressions

Practicing the second half of the fugue (April 21, 2015):

Practicing the first half of the fugue (April 21, 2015):

a sketch of the harmonic reduction of the music written at the bottom of page four and the beginning of page five (above):

By maintaining the exchange between hands in Schumann's fifth variation of the Études symphonique, Op. 13, but changing the rhythm, I arrived at this music which functions as the final variation and also as a transition to the fugue.

VAR. 6

an excerpt of Variation 5 from Schumann's Étude Symphonique, Op. 13

the initial sketch of the sixth variation

This extensive fugue has an original subject and no specific inspirational materials. I attempted to write a fugue of significant length using Romantic harmonic idioms, and because of the nature of combining the tones F, A, and E in the fugue’s subject, chromaticism emerged prominently.

a different version of the music at the end of the page five:

Passing notes located in voices that don't state the fugue subject were added here later in two locations between this practice session and the engraving.

These eight bars were scrapped and replaced with different material.


This fugue experienced many different stages of (in)completion before the engraving in November 2015.  Two recordings of a practice session in April 2015 expose materials that were edited later:

There is a parallel here between the soprano and bass voice which I eliminated later.

The second bar of this stave varies from its parallel component 8 bars earlier.  The left hand eighth-notes could also be C-C-F-F-A-A; whether or not this is an error in the engraving or a variation within a repetitive structure remains unclear. In the spirit of looking for room for experimentation in pianistic practice, I have practiced and allow for both during my realizations of the score in performance.

This moment in the score invites the performer of the F.A.E. Variations to contribute in a different way than navigating the notated pitches, if he or she chooses to do so.


Here below are some of the materials, both recorded and notated, that were rejected before the engraving of the score in November 2015; these materials don't just disappear but may emerge as part of one of my extemporizations at the moment in the score when the performer is invited to play a cadenza. Including certain materials and rejecting others in the November 2015 engraving is an improvisational process itself that is equated with Benson's improvisation5 in the chapter On Scales of Improvisation.

The performed cadenza in the recording of the F.A.E. Variations presented in the top-left corner of the page constitutes Phase B piano playing.

Here is a Phase A performance of music inspired by the motto frei aber einsam recorded on October 15, 2014, before the Theme to the F.A.E. Variations was conceived and notated:


Note that this recording exemplifies Phase A piano playing because I was asked to perform music inspired by the F.A.E. motto for the first time, a request that gave me the idea to write a set of theme and variations based on the motto. (See the main page of the chapter On My Improvisation Methods page for a description of Phases A, B, C, and D.)

A small engraving error or a filling out of the texture? In the last bar of this stave, the alto voice should enter on an E to maintain the canon.

Here is an audio excerpt recorded in April 2015 of a fragment of a potential variation that was rejected before the engraving of the piece of November 2015.


an alternate four-bar passage to the one originally composed on the second to last stave of the page above:

This transition from C Major back to A minor existed in many variations between the conception and engraving.  It turns out to be one bar shorter here than in the engraved score, and the C-D-E-C octaves in the bass enters four bars earlier and in double tempo.

another attempt:

the first attempt at composing page seven (above):

I give up here before the end of the stretto passage.

an original fourth variation that was later rejected:

two early sketches of music related to the F.A.E. theme but which never made it into the final composition:

the beginnings of a variation à la Paganini:

an original fifth variation that was later rejected:

three attempts at a slow variation:

left:  a variation in A minor in a slow tertiary meter

right, below:  a line of music similar to the variation to the left, then a written-out attempt at transcribing the music from Schumann's Eusebius (from Carneval, Op. 9) into A minor

left, below:  an initial phrase of a slow variation in F Major

four more rejected variations:

a continuation of where it says (other side) above: