Duration: 15 minutes
Instrumentation: saxophone (sop., alto, ten., bari.), electric guitar, percussion, piano
This work was commissioned by the Barlow Endowment for Music Composition at Brigham Young University for Flexible Music.
Set in five continous variation movements, Atomic Variations explores some of the basic science, romance, and popular mythology of the atomic bomb. Sometimes chillingly calculated, sometimes warm and humanized, the work makes an epic love story of the physics and forces that comprise the bomb. In its occasional lyricism, the work is never far from a sense of foreboding inevitability--the consequences of which, through the result of natural, even predictable processes--possesses the most unthinkable known to humanity.
The first variation, "Inertia," is a slowly accelerating crescendo of activity wrought by metric modulations that conclude in a passage of blinding speed.
The second variation, "Pas de Deux," takes its inspiration from ballet, as two protagonists create dual centers of gravity around which their respective partners can act and react. A romantic view of the 'dance' that exists between subatomic particles is the order of the movement.
"Separation Anxiety," the third variation, progresses toward an extended passage of increasingly tense contrary motion--highlighting the forces that sever ties and relationships. Splitting the atom is cast in a backdrop of anguish, betrayal, and nostalgia.
"Murder by Numbers," a fast, angular, perussion driven movement follows the foregoing 'breakup.' A series of pre-compositionally planned prime number proportions (derived from a series of prime numbers that add up to yield the atomic weight of uranium) determine which instruments play, and for how long. In this variation, murder is an act of precision, not the chaos of blunt force.
The final variation reconciles the disparity of the previous movements, while finally giving full expression to the famous Puccini aria "Nessun Dorma," heard in brief phrases throughout the entire work. Aptly titled "None Shall Sleep" (the English translation of the Italian aria's title) this variation contrasts one of the opera world's most famous melodies against the swirling particles from prior movements. At the culminating moment however, the powers-that-be subvert expectation, as the infernal equation disrupts the reverie with forces of inevitability too great to withstand The laws of nature send the work plunging into a night where, indeed, 'none shall sleep.'
Atomic Variations is published by Potenza Music.