Dantes Variations (2011)

for piano solo, about 8:00 minutes

pre­miere at Ford­ham Uni­ver­sity
New York City
Octo­ber 2011


Lawrence Kramer, edi­tor of the jour­nal 19th-Century Music, asked me to con­tribute a solo piano piece for a two-day con­fer­ence in New York City called “Coun­ter­points: Nineteenth-Century Music and Lit­er­a­ture,” to be held in Octo­ber, 2011.

A sum­mary of of the conference’s goals:

The top­ics may range as widely as the con­trib­u­tors’ imag­i­na­tion can com­pass. Pos­si­bil­i­ties include, but are by no means lim­ited to, por­tray­als of music or musi­cians in nineteenth-century lit­er­ary works, musi­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tions in nineteenth-century music of lit­er­ary gen­res, char­ac­ters, or texts, lit­er­ary opera, inci­den­tal music, aes­thetic the­o­ries, mod­els of per­for­mance, treat­ments of nineteenth-century music in twen­ti­eth– and twenty-first-century lit­er­a­ture and film, treat­ments of nineteenth-century lit­er­a­ture in twentieth-and twenty-first-century music, includ­ing opera and film music, and the list goes on.

I chose to write a musi­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Edmond Dantes from the clas­sic Dumas novel, The Count of Monte Cristo. The open­ing theme is intended to be heroic in the Roman­tic tra­di­tion. A cen­tral idea of the hero myth is that the char­ac­ter responds to a call to adven­ture, departs from home and expe­ri­ences many new and chal­leng­ing expe­ri­ences. These tri­als serve to trans­form the hero before a return home, and this is the gen­eral idea behind the Dantes Variations.

A key dif­fer­ence from other exam­ples of the form is that I decided to bor­row from many musi­cal styles to set the vari­a­tions. As well, I thought to orga­nize the mate­r­ial in a back­wards fash­ion, so that the first vari­a­tion to the last works chrono­log­i­cally back in time, return­ing at last to the trans­formed open­ing theme. A com­mand of many dif­fer­ent styles, from hard-driving rock to rubato Chopin, will aid the per­former in the exe­cu­tion of this piece.


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About the Author

This was written by Richard D. Russell, New York City based composer of fine music.