Variations (Stravinsky)

Variations: Aldous Huxley in memoriam is Igor Stravinsky's last orchestral composition, written in 1963–64.


Stravinsky began work on the Variations in Santa Fe, New Mexico in July 1963, and completed the composition in Hollywood, California on 28 October 1964. It was first performed in Chicago on 17 April 1965, by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Robert Craft (Spies 1965, 62; White 1979, 534). The score is dedicated to the memory of Stravinsky's close friend Aldous Huxley, who died on 22 November 1963 (the same day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated), when composition of the Variations was in progress (White 1979, 533, 536–37).

Although not composed for the purpose, Stravinsky's music was twice choreographed for the New York City Ballet by George Balanchine, a first version in 1966, and a second version in 1982, both times under the title "Variations" (Barnes 1966; Anderson 1982).


The Variations are based on a twelve-note row (Spies 1965, 66; Kohl 1979–80, 392; Phillips 1984, 69; Straus 2001, 201):


Opinions about the form differ. According to one view, the work consists of twelve variations: bars 1–22, 23–33, 33–39, 40–46, 47–58, 59–72, 73–85, 86–94, 95–100, 101–17, 118–29, and 130–41 (Spies 1965, 62–63). According to another, bars 33/34–46 comprise a single variation, Var. 3, so there are only eleven in all, ranging from 6 to 22 bars in length, some of which are subdivided into two or three component sections (Phillips 1984, 70). According to yet another, a prelude and postlude frame three main sections, the first two separated by a short episode, and the second and third by a more extended section divided into five episodes (White 1979, 536). There is no "theme" on whose melodic, rhythmic, or formal characteristics the variations are constructed, nor are there any conventional compositional variation techniques (Spies 1965, 62).

The central feature of the Variations is a duodecet, or twelve-part invention, which is divided into three parts, separated by contrasting episodes and each with a different scoring: twelve solo violins, ten solo violas with two double basses, and twelve winds (two flutes, alto flute, the oboes, cor anglais, two clarinets, bass clarinet, two bassoons, and horn). Metrically, this invention uses a regularly recurring succession of 4
+ 3
+ 5
bars, with each of the three large sections containing four of these three-bar units (White 1979, 535).


  • 2 flutes
  • alto flute
  • 2 oboes
  • cor anglais
  • 2 clarinets
  • bass clarinet
  • 2 bassoons
  • 4 horns
  • 3 trumpets
  • 2 tenor trombones
  • bass trombone
  • harp
  • piano
  • 12 violins
  • 10 violas
  • 8 cellos
  • 4 double basses


  • Anderson, Jack. 1982. "Ballet: Suzanne Farrell in 'Variations' Premiere". New York Times (4 July).
  • Barnes, Clive. 1966. "Ballet: Still Another Balanchine-Stravinsky Pearl; City Troupe Performs in Premiere Here 'Variations' for Huxley at State Theater". New York Times (1 April): 28.
  • Kohl, Jerome. 1979–80. "Exposition in Stravinsky's Orchestral Variations". Perspectives of New Music 18, nos. 1 and 2 (Fall–Winter and Spring–Summer): 391–405.
  • Phillips, Paul Schuyler. 1984. "The Enigma of Variations: A Study of Stravinsky's Final Work for Orchestra". Music Analysis 3, no. 1:69–89.
  • Spies, Claudio. 1965. "Notes on Stravinsky's Variations". Perspectives of New Music 4, no. 1 (Fall–Winter): 62–74. Reprinted in Perspectives on Schoenberg and Stravinsky, revised edition, edited by Benjamin Boretz and Edward T. Cone, 210–22. New York: W. W. Norton, 1972.
  • Straus, Joseph N. 2001. Stravinsky's Late Music. Cambridge Studies in Music Theory and Analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-60288-2.
  • White, Eric Walter. 1979. Stravinsky: The Composer and His Works, second edition. Berkeley and Los Angeles: The University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-03985-8.

Further reading

  • Wuorinen, Charles, and Jeffrey Kresky. 1986. "On the Significance of Stravinsky's Last Works". In Confronting Stravinsky: Man, Musician, and Modernist, edited by Jann Pasler, 262–70. Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-05403-2.
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