The theme is taken from a lute song, "So quicke, so hot, so mad", in Campion's
Fourth Booke of Ayres (1617). In the original, the tune begins on G and is
harmonized in G major; I transposed it up a step and reharmonized it so that
the first note of the tune (now A instead of G) acts as the dominant rather
than the tonic, thus in D major.
The tune is exceptional for its time in that it employs (in its first strain, at any rate) a high degree of motivic saturation. The first three notes; the next four, containing the first instance of the lower turn figure; the first four, not counting the turn: each of these musical particles is restated at different pitch levels and sometimes turned upside down, and they account for nearly, if not quite, all of the melodic material of the tune. The value of this kind of technique was not generally recognized until the Eighteenth Century and its exploitation reached its pinnacle in the works of Beethoven and Brahms.
There are ten variations and a Finale. The variations are mostly fast and quite short, but "slow movements" occur as the third, seventh, and tenth variations. Each variation typically takes its point of departure from one of the leading motives in a fairly obvious manner. The Finale begins in fugal texture, as is customary in variation sets, then brings back the theme in its original harmonization, surrounded by fragments of the fugue subject, and concludes with a reference to the first variation.
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