Variations (played without pause)
1. Theme: Poco allegro
3. Variation: Allegro molto
4. Variation: Poco adagio
5. Variation: Tempo di valse
6. Variation: Molto moderato
7. Variation: Allegro
8. Variation: Moderato
9. Finale: Moderato
E-flat Soprano Clarinet
B-flat Soprano Clarinet I-II-III
E-flat Alto Clarinet
B-flat Bass Clarinet
E-flat Alto Saxophone I-II
B-flat Tenor Saxophone
E-flat Baritone Saxophone
B-flat Cornet I-II
B-flat Trumpet I-II
B-flat Flugelhorn I-II
Horn in F I-II-III-IV
Percussion I-II-III-IV, including:
- Bass Drum
- Crash Cymbals
- Gong (or Tam-tam)
- Snare Drum
- Suspended Cymbal
See: Topolewski, in Resources, below.
In 1943, Arnold Schoenberg composed Theme and Variations, op. 43a after numerous requests for a wind band composition by his dear friend and president of G. Schirmer Music, Carl Engel. While not written in the composer’s famed twelve-tone style, Schoenberg still believed Opus 43a to be of practical and artistic significance. In a 1944 letter to Fritz Reiner, the composer stated: "...this is not one of my main works, as everybody can see, because it is not a composition with twelve tones. It is one of those compositions which one writes in order to enjoy one’s own virtuosity and, on the other hand, to give a certain group of music lovers – here it is the bands – something better to play. I can assure you – and I think I can prove it – technically this piece is a masterwork."
Although Opus 43a establishes itself clearly as a tonal work in g-minor, Schoenberg gives himself free reign to assert his mastery of the contrapuntal techniques developed in his prior twelve‐tone compositions by utilizing variation form. In order to achieve maximum diversity of character, Schoenberg clearly delineates each of the sections of the piece, giving these sections a specific melodic, orchestrational and formal framework. Not only is the melody of the theme, heard in the first twenty-one measures, developed over the course of the work’s seven variations, but background elements shift from structural scenery to predominance in the ensuing contrapuntal elaboration before the original theme reasserts itself in the climactic finale of the piece. By fracturing and passing around melody and other primary material, Schoenberg plays upon the coloristic strengths inherent in wind band instrumentation. Finally, over the course of Opus 43a the formal structure of contrapuntal development receives elaboration, so the listener hears in various sections an adagio, a waltz, a strict canon and a fugato before the final variation [a “choral fantasy”] and finale.
Theme and Variations is comprised of a 21-measure theme followed by seven variations. At the onset, the composition appears to be firmly rooted in the key of G minor. For there,however, the composer exercises his compositional mastery to create seven variations of increasing complexity which often mask the melody with various contrapunctal techniques. The original theme returns toward the end of the work, culminating in a subtle tip of the hat to George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue.
- Program Note from Sonoma State University Symphonic Wind Ensemble concert program, 21 March 2018
- Audio CD: Cincinnati Wind Symphony (Eugene Corporon, conductor)
- Audio CD: Columbus State University Wind Ensemble (Robert Rumbelow, conductor)
- Audio CD: Northwestern University Wind Ensemble (Mallory Thompson, conductor)
- Audio CD: Royal Northern College of Music Wind Orchestra (Timothy Reynish, conductor)
- New York: VI
To submit a performance please join The Wind Repertory Project
- University of Colorado Boulder Wind Symphony (Donald J. McKinney, conductor) - 21 September 2023
- Ithaca (N.Y.) College Wind Ensemble (Rebekah Daniel, conductor) - 9 March 2023
- Texas Tech University (Lubbock, TX) Symphonic Band (Eric Allen, conductor) - 7 March 2023
- Ithaca (N.Y.) College Wind Ensemble (Louis Menchaca, conductor) - 4 February 2023
- Eastman School of Music (Rochester, N.Y.) Wind Orchestra (Mark Scatterday, conductor) - 12 December 2022
- University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Symphonic Wind Ensemble (Glenn C. Hayes, conductor) - 6 March 2022
- University of Minnesota (Minneapolis) Wind Ensemble (Emily Threinen, conductor) – 4 March 2020
- Sacramento (Calif.) State University Symphonic Wind Ensemble (Matthew Morse, conductor) – 4 March 2020
- Appalachia: A Southeastern Wind Symphony (Piedmont, S.C.) (Logan Campbell, conductor) - 29 February 2020
- Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, Md.) Peabody Wind Ensemble (Harland D. Parker, conductor) – 20 February 2020
- University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) Concert Band (Courtney Snyder, conductor) – 5 February 2020
- Michigan State University (East Lansing) Wind Symphony (Simon Holoweiko, conductor) – 21 November 2019
- Boston University (Mass.) Wind Ensemble (David Martins, conductor) – 21 November 2019
- University of South Carolina (Columbia) Wind Ensemble (Cormac Cannon, conductor) – 19 November 2019
- University of Cincinnati (Ohio) College-Conservatory of Music Wind Symphony (Kevin Michael Holzman, conductor) – 2 November 2019
- University of Southern California (Los Angeles) Thornton Wind Ensemble (H. Robert Reynolds, conductor) – 11 October 2019
- University of North Texas (Denton) Wind Symphony (Eugene Migliaro Corporon, conductor) – 19 September 2019
- Indiana University (Bloomington) Wind Ensemble (Rodney Dorsey, conductor) – 26 March 2019
- University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire Wind Symphony (John R. Stewart, conductor) – 12 October 2018
- Eastman Wind Ensemble (Rochester, N.Y.) (Frederick Fennell, conductor) – 17 November 1961 *Premiere Eastman Wind Ensemble Concert*
Works for Winds by This Composer
- Chamber Symphony (1906)
- Pierrot lunaire (1912)
- Quintett (1924/1925)
- Theme and Variations, Op 43a (1943)
- Fanfare for a Bowl Concert on Motifs of Die Gurrelieder (1945))
- Berz, William, and Todd Nichols. "Tempo Preferences in Conducting Schoenberg’s Theme and Variations." Journal of Band Research vol. 57, no. 2, Spring 2022: pp. 24-36.
- Garcia, David Manuel. "Tonality in Schoenberg's Theme and Variations for Band, Opus 43a and Symphony for Band." Ohio State University, 1986. DMA dissertation.
- Miles, Richard B., and Larry Blocher. Teaching Music through Performance in Band. Volume 1. Chicago: GIA Publications, 2010, pp. 968-973.
- Nicholson, Chad. Great Music for Wind Band: A Guide to the Top 100 Works in Grades IV, V, VI. Galesville, MD: Meredith Music Publications, 2009, p. 162.
- Topolewski, Timothy. Errata Studies for the Wind Band Conductor Vol. 2. DeBiencourt, Montreal, Que., Can., Plein la Vue, 2003.