VARIATIONS ON ‘MY FUNNY VALENTINE’
(3rd version; 2017)
On 14 April 1937 the musical Babes in Arms had its première in New York’s Shubert Theatre. Lorenz Hart (1895–1943) wrote the text, the well-known Broadway composer Richard Rogers (1902–1979) the music. In the musical, My Funny Valentine is sung in the First Act by the leading lady, Billie Smith, who gently pokes fun at the appearance and the character of her friend Valentine (‘Val’) LaMar, but admits that his laugh endears her to him and that she hopes he will always be at her side. In Variations on ‘My Funny Valentine’ an attempt has been made to link the world of the musical with that of Romantic piano music. After the theme in C minor, the original key, the melancholy and ardour that pervade it are amplified in the following two variations. The variation in the major key in the middle of the work offers some emotional respite, after which the gracefully swaying yet still plaintive fourth variation in Siciliano rhythm provides for some lightness and movement. Thereafter, however, the true character of the composition returns and shrouds the melody in the dark vestment of impossible love, which appears to flare up more brightly the more unattainable it becomes…. The composition originated mainly in the autumn of 2010, but has been revised and enlarged twice.
Level of difficulty: Grade VIII-IX (on a scale of XII grades).
NOTE TO THE SECOND EDITION
The most important change in this second edition is the addition of a new variation in major (Variation IV, Appassionato, con grandezza), to create a better balance in the total of the composition, both structurally and in terms of emotional content. In addition, the pianistic texture is revised. The first version, evidently published too early, has been withdrawn from sale.
NOTE TO THE THIRD EDITION
In this final version have been incorporated the amendments I made in the past few years, performing the work repeatedly. These minor corrections – a single note more or less; here and there a slightly lighter pianism or altered dynamics – are nevertheless significant enough for this to be described as a ‘third, final version’: the end result of a seven-year development.
The presentation of the theme seems almost like the dark, foreboding beginning of a ballad and reminds one of Grieg’s Ballad from his Lyric Pieces (written in the same key, as it happens). Only with the introduction of the first variation does the rocking quaver movement bring you back to the original character of this musical theme. All subsequent variations present a kind of sample sheet of techniques with which the character of a melody could be altered in the Romantic style. These are essentially pianistic variations whereby the harmonic chord scheme remains more or less unchanged (indeed with the exception of the major variation). Highly original is the choice of the marcia funebre as the final variation. This perhaps says something about the composer’s interpretation of the text. An inevitable fate? Or a reference to the text of the last song of Schumann’s Dichterliebe: the coffin must be so large because the poet’s love and pain must be buried along with him… Whatever the case may be, the composition is a highly rewarding pianistic piece with a theme that is surprising for Romantic variations.
Maarten Boonstra, PianoWereld 2013-2
We are concerned here with a series of variations for solo piano on the theme of the jazz standard My Funny Valentine. The publication has an extensive preface [also in English] in which Brussee describes the genesis of Richard Rogers’ famous theme and explains that with this series of variations he has “made an attempt to connect the worlds of musical and Romantic piano music.” […] The piece opens with a harmonized version of the main theme. The lamento line, normally in the middle voice, has been transferred to the bass, which provides a beautiful Classical effect. The theme is followed by five variations: Più mosso, Ancora più mosso e con passione, the central major variation Calmato e cantabile, Allegretto grazioso and Come una marcia funebre. The order of these pieces makes for a convincingly dramatic construction. In terms of technique the pieces are fairly demanding and include many elements of the Romantic piano tradition, from Thalberg’s three-hands effect to accompaniment patterns typical of Chopin nocturnes and Brahms-like polyphonic settings. Musically speaking, many influences can be detected, from Wagner (in the subtly varied treatment of the melody in the B part of the theme) to Chopin (in the nocturne-like major variation in the middle) and Rachmaninov (in the dramatic funeral march at the end). All in all this series of variations provides a huge amount of musical pleasure and is highly recommended for both the advanced amateur and the professional musician.
I would finally like to observe that it is fine to see that Brussee does not shy away from writing in the Romantic idiom. Especially in these times of considerable alienation from the musical language that constitutes the heart of what we perform, it is important that we, as interpreters, also (partially) become composers again, understanding through and through the language of the music that we perform.
Karst de Jong, Piano Bulletin 2013-1
© 2017 AB Music Productions & Editions, The Hague.
26 pages, with a preface in Dutch and English.
Available through the usual music channels (distribution by Hal Leonhard) or direct from AB Music Productions & Editions.