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I must confess I have added the following discussion to another website but hope you also find it interesting.

La Folia (pronounced lah foh-LEE-ah) which literally means madness, folly or empty-headedness is possibly one of the most remarkable phenomena in musical history. This simple but intriguing tune was first published in 1672 with roots going back to the 16th century. It has been a major challenge for many composers up to the present day, ranging from being part of a Bach Cantata to being incorporated into a film theme by Vangelis. Perhaps the most striking feature is that the theme is not better known despite more than 150 composers making variations of it over a span of nearly 350 years.

It strikes me that this would be an excellent basis for a competition among our members - just out of interest...sadly no cash prizes. Because sometimes I see myself fitting neatly into the meaning of 'La Folia' I have had a crack at writing 12 variations for horn quartet. For your interest the theme proper makes its first entrance in the 1st horn part in variation 5 - it is only 8 notes long.

Incidentally, I have become fixated with this so am now attempting a set of jazz variations - crazy or what!


Comments that might lead to improvements are welcome as always.

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Hi Stephen,

What great invention you have on show here, I particularly liked the build in impetus throughout and thought var.12 was excellent. You could have repeated the idea of v12 again with even more development and excitement. I say that because I think the end is a little abrupt and might benefit from a longer build into it and once there draw it out for much longer, perhaps even a pedal?

Somebody mentioned more harmonic variation and I agree. One can have a lot of fun re-harmonising with the added bonus that it refreshes the idea and can add to the impetus. Most of all I enjoyed the great invention and solid part writing, which is wonderful to see.

I

You can do whatever you like and reharmonising is a great way to develop things.

Thank you Augustus for your kind(?) words. Unfortunately, as I first studied species counterpoint and continuo in 1974 for three years I seem to have forgotten most of it...but even so I'm not sure I agree with you that it's required on this occasion. If you look at and listen to any of the hundreds of versions of La Folia written by composers somewhat more musically gifted and educated than you or I you'll discover that they don't agree with you either. It is only subsequent to writing my variations that I've begun to look more closely at what others have done with the theme - it's both fascinating and educational. The very nature of the early La Folia (because it's only eight notes) rather precludes doing what you suggest.

agustus stephanos said:

the theme was lost through most of it being that it sounded like 1-5-1-5-1-5-1-5-1-5 constantly.  the variations didn't really sound like variations either.   you should maybe learn species counterpoint, tho if you're serious, learn continuo first.  

Mike,

You are very kind and I agree with what you say about harmony (although I rather think I like the relatively short and sharp ending and think the Tierce de Picardy sounds good in the context of what preceded it). This was an exercise for me more of coming up with some original rhythmical variations and textures than even considering the harmony. I thought about being more adventurous (including inter alia a muted section). This is, of course, a work in progress and the next stage is to follow the advice of you and others by incorporating more interesting harmony. I'm looking forward to evolving it into a rather more complete effort over time.

Mike Hewer said:

Hi Stephen,

What great invention you have on show here, I particularly liked the build in impetus throughout and thought var.12 was excellent. You could have repeated the idea of v12 again with even more development and excitement. I say that because I think the end is a little abrupt and might benefit from a longer build into it and once there draw it out for much longer, perhaps even a pedal?

Somebody mentioned more harmonic variation and I agree. One can have a lot of fun re-harmonising with the added bonus that it refreshes the idea and can add to the impetus. Most of all I enjoyed the great invention and solid part writing, which is wonderful to see.

I

Plenty of others have done exactly that (added harmonic variations) and of course there is far more scope for this in the sixteen note (later) version. La Folia is just that - 8 notes (or 16 of course) which historically are written in D minor but can be harmonised whichever way you like so long as it makes musical sense of one sort or another and maintains the melodic line. I think writing a jazz version could be interesting without being sacrilegious - although I'm sure some will disagree. The world contains all sorts of people including pedants - that's what makes it such a great place to be.

agustus stephanos said:

you can't reharmonize it.  that's what the variations are built on.  you could possibly add chords, but overall, it's a E C G or a E a b6 C G, with a phrygian cadence to connect back.  otherwise it's not la folia.


https://www.dropbox.com/s/ysn7ghmnt5yqqtk/La%20Folia.jpg?dl=0

If you look at the above link (dated 1695) you will see that the original La Folia is simply an 8-note melodic line - so I think you're barking up the wrong tree old chap.


agustus stephanos said:

of course you can.  but the title "la folia" would be completely arbitrary.  the bass isn't fixed in la folia.  the harmony is.  so if you change the harmony, what would you be building from?  the root position bass notes?  that would be a very uninteresting idea, plus there is no other harmonies available to such a simple root postion bass line, that wouldn't be extremely monotonous.  you want as much variety in harmony as possible for your ground, being that it's going to repeat throughout.  and there is no improvement or equivalent in harmonic diversity than what's already given (6 total chords which is what makes it la folia anyway).  i'd like to see what you'd use for just 2 harmonic variations.

Augustus,

Variation-form is challenging because one has to apply imagination and that is its great attraction. Invention is the key, as is a more adventurous set of ears. As Stephen has pointed out, It can also be thematic and it is  in motivic development where fruitful ideas and new accompanying harmony can be found, even in the traditional sense.

The ground notes can easily be re-harmonised many times over, so long as you do not stay in the past and even there, other solutions are likely.

Your lack of capitals reminds me of someone else...are you a Bach fanatic by any chance?

So are you that man?

I wont be getting into this with you as I have bigger things to work on and I’ve got to mow the lawn. If you want to know what I can and have done, including my education, go to my website, hopefully that will tell you that I do have a little knowledge and a shed load of technique.

mikehewer.com

I really don't know why you keep saying the ground must be in the bass - it's a melodic line for goodness sake.

agustus stephanos said:

i supplied one possible variation.  please, provide one simple variation the ground in the bass to prove me wrong.  i mean, yes you could reharmonize it with the ground in an upper voice if that's what you mean.  i won't contest that.

As Stephen and Mike have pointed out above, invention (melodic, contrapuntal, harmonic, whatever it may be is the key word to all variation sets and there is where I find it attractive also). No sense in arguing about the merits imo, there are all there and we are spoiled for choice. I can only see great sense in studying every effort by any composer on this simple but phenomenal tune which to me is like a small concise historical version of western music. The more you study it through its historical development, the more you learn.

Hey, Agustus, do you know the 15th variation to the Goldberg's? (pretty far flung from the source :)

Hi Steven.. I like how you varied the rhythm, and it's interplay among the parts..

I too felt it could expand the harmonic palette,.. perhaps gradually with each successive  variation.. 

Socrates mentioned the imperfect cadence and then repeat with ending cadence - making it 'automatically' twice as long ;)

But you could go from the imperfect cadence to the next variation.. (or perhaps you did  - have to listen again)

Reminds me bit of Gabrieli - whom i like a lot. (probably partly do to being for horns)

Am I the only one who is sensing de ja vu?

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