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Zen variations : for piano

by Michael Hannan (1982)

Audio Sample

Performance by Jeanell Carrigan from the CD little variation

little variation


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A little variation / Jeanell Carrigan, piano.

Library shelf no. CD 2427 [Available for loan]

Zen variations


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Zen variations : for solo piano / Michael Hannan.

Library shelf no. 786.2/HAN 20 [Not for loan]

Work Overview

Zen Variations takes as its starting point a chant-like melody that I wrote and harmonised in an earlier work, Seven Studies for Single Hands for piano (1981), and it subjects this melody to a number of extreme transformations.
The melody itself without any harmony added appears at first to be in the Phrygian mode but finds a final resolution that implies the Ionian mode. The harmonisation for the right hand in the source composition forms a series of dissonant three-note chords all of which contain a 7th or a ninth between the melody note and the lowest note. Transported to Zen Variations this chord sequence is accompanied by a low C pedal tone which transforms the tune into the Aeolian mode.
The second manifestation of the melody uses octave displacement as the main variation principle. This time each note of the dislocated melody is accompanied by a note that is a seventh or a ninth lower. Each attack has a different dynamic marking and there is a great degree of rhythmic and metrical variety compared to the regularity of the initial tune.
In the third manifestation the melody is elongated into a shape influenced by solo shakuhachi music (honkyoku) with its combination of long held tones and quick grace notes. This left-hand line is accompanied by a right-hand commentary involving both counter-melodic elements and chordal support.
The last manifestation continues the octave displacement idea but the tones of the melody are hidden within a network of flamboyant dissonant gestures which are in turn interrupted by repeated gong-like harmonics produced from the lowest C on the piano.
What has Zen Variations to do with Zen? That's a musical riddle to contemplate.

Work Details

Year: 1982

Instrumentation: Piano.

Duration: 7 min.

Difficulty: Advanced

Dedication note: Dedicated to Anthony Fogg


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