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King Lear Variations

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David Amram

David Amram

General Info

Year: 1967
Duration: c. 15:00
Difficulty: VI (see Ratings for explanation)
Publisher: CF Peters
Cost: Score and Parts - Rental   |   Full Score - $18.50


Full Score
Flute I-II-III-IV (III & IV doubling Piccolo)
Oboe I-II-III-IV (IV doubling English Horn)
Bassoons I-II-III-IV (IV doubling Contrabassoon)
B-flat Soprano Clarinet I-II-III-IV (III & IV doubling Bass Clarinet)
B-flat Trumpet I-II-III-IV
Horn in F I-II-III-IV-V-VI
Trombone I-II-III-IV
Percussion (5 players), including:

  • Bass Drum
  • Bongos
  • Chinese Gong
  • Conga Drum
  • Cowbell
  • Crash Cymbals
  • Field Drum
  • Finger Cymbal
  • Glockenspiel
  • Gourd
  • Marimba
  • Snare Drum
  • Sock Cymbal
  • Suspended Cymbal
  • Tambourine
  • Tom-Toms
  • Triangle
  • Tubular Bells (or Chimes)
  • Vibraphone
  • Wood Block
  • Xylophone


None discovered thus far.

Program Notes

The work begins with timpani and snare drum with the melody in the bassoon part. This theme was taken from the Joseph Papp’s production of King Lear in Central Park during the summer of 1961. More specifically the original music was used for the Fool’s song appearing in Act II, Scene III of the play. Amram (1967) writes “Because Shakespeare’s clowns are neither sad nor funny, but rather statements of the human dilemma, I tried in this piece to create many varying moods, feelings, and attitudes which sum up a musical experience corresponding to Shakespeare’s portrait of human experience.”

In a review from the New York Times contained in Amram (1967), Winthrop Sargeant wrote:

To me, David Amram is a serious composer independent of passing fads. His King Lear Variations is an unpretentious but valuable work -- valuable because it prefigures something of what the future of composition is going to be like after people grow tired of this so-called experimental style.

Variation I is scored for the double reeds with the oboes playing the melody. Variation II is scored for flutes, clarinets, and bass clarinets. Variation III has the tempo marking of Alla Marcia and is scored for the whole ensemble. In the next variation the theme is used as a cantus firmus. Variation V was composed for the percussion section, including piano. This is followed by a variation for the brass in which the theme is written backwards. The finale starts with whole ensemble but ends with the same scoring as the opening with the bassoon having the melody. Ethington (1988) wrote, “Taken as a whole, King Lear Variations exhibits a remarkably integrated increase in thematic complexity as the variations unfold. As the variation procedure nears its conclusion, the various transformed elements begin to coalesce, anticipating the return of thematic structures.”


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State Ratings

None discovered thus far.


  • Northwestern University (Evanston, Ill.) Symphonic Wind Ensemble (Mallory Thompson, conductor) – 15 November 2019
  • Northwestern University (Evanston, Ill.) Symphonic Wind Ensemble (Mallory Thompson, conductor) – 6 February 2009
  • University of Cincinnati (Ohio) College-Conservatory of Music Wind Symphony (Mallory Thompson, conductor) - 28 November 1995

Works for Winds by This Composer


  • Amram, D.W. (1967). King Lear Variations [score]. CF Peters: New York.
  • Ethington, B.P. (1988). Arch structures in David Amram’s ‘King Lear variations.’ Unpublished Master’s Thesis, Baylor University, Waco, TX.