Early in 1990, composer Wilfred Heaton accepted an invitation to write a major work for the All England Masters Brass Band Championship, then in its second year. However, when the organisers turned to the practical aspects of the commission – publisher, duration, fees – Heaton became rather nervous about being tied down to deadlines. The work was left in an ‘as and when’ state but turned out to be ‘never’. At this stage in his life – Heaton was in his 70s, a widower and not in the best of health – he was composing very little and the music he managed to complete was largely the result of re-purposing and revising much older material from the 1940s and 50s.
However, for this project Heaton began a brand new piece from scratch, a set of variations on an original theme. By 1992 he had completed a number of variations, but gave up on it at least twice as the work grew ever more substantial. Heaton was not a great enthusiast of brass band contests and late in 1992 offered the work to Howard Snell as a major concert item. Progress continued to be very slow and by the time he died in May 2000 it was still not finished.
Howard Snell was invited by the family to complete the full score of what turned out to be a major 30 minute work – too long and diffuse to make it of practical use for brass bands. The composer recognised this himself and was never confident that it would ever be performed. It has achieved a handful of festival performances and one full recording. Variations is dedicated ‘To Howard Snell in admiration’. Howard Snell conducted the world premiere on 16 January 2002 in Logen Hall, Bergen, Norway with Eikanger- Bjorsvik Musikklag.
Heaton grouped the 12 variations into three parts, variations 1 to 5 (which are the most virtuosic), variations 7 to 9 (which reflect Heaton’s love of parody and musical humour), and variations 9 to 12 (which are the most personal and include a tribute to a grand daughter who died tragically young in 1992).
Variation 1 Grazioso
Variation 2 Molto Adagio
Variation 3 Vivace
Variation 4 Tempo primo
Variation 5 Placido
Variation 6 La voce popolare I – Marche militaire
Variation 7 La voce popolare II – Cantilena
Variation 8 La voce popolare III – Galop
Variation 9 Grave
Variation 10 Adagio (Interlude)
Variation 11 Threnody for Charlotte Anne Stobart
Variation 12 Adagio – Allegro (Chorale)
Duration: 30 mins.