Hieronymus Bosch. The Wayfarer.

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Download The "Wayfarer" Variations (6.4 MB)

The "Wayfarer" Variations: Tonus peregrinus

The "Wayfarer" Variations for Wind Quintet, with occasional use of bassoon as "soloist," was especially composed for the Fourth Delian Suite, whose subject is the Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch (c. 1450–9 August 1516). It is based on the Bosch image "The Wayfarer" [also known as "The Pedlar"].

The theme uses a seven-note motif I salvaged from the introduction to my discarded "Lydia Waltz" (in the Lydian mode). The "Tonus Peregrinus" (wandering tone) of the subtitle refers both to the concept of "wandering," as suggested by this subtitle, as well as the mixed modes of the actual music (Lydian of the theme and first variation, Dorian of the second, etc.). Bosch's Wayfarer figure himself may or may not represent the Prodigal Son of the parable (as many scholars have suggested), though I didn't originally choose the image in regard to its allegorical significance.

The variations, except for the third, are mostly more motivic than structural, with the "Lydia" notes predominating throughout. If one may ascribe extra-musical meaning to the piece, the theme perhaps shows the pilgrim's anxiety at the outset, the first variation his joy on entering the open road; the second his depression on his lack of progress; the third his rejoicing in nature (the standard musical symbols, trills, and other fast motion for birds are heard here); and the fourth, with its Mixolydian beginning, the Wayfarer in contemplative mood. The fifth (Lydian again) is a duet between bassoon and horn, and continues the mood of the fourth, and the finale represents, of course, the Prodigal's return amidst general rejoicing.

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Last updated May 31, 2008
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