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Variations on a Shape-Note Hymn
("And when from death I'm free, I'll sing on") (2019)

Instrumentation: Fl / Cl in B-flat / Bsn / 2 Vln / 2 Vla / 2 Vc / 1 DB
Also available for solo organ
Duration: ca. 8'
Commissioned by Symphony No. 1

Program Note

As an organist, I am frequently in the position where I improvise upon a melody (typically a hymn) for an extended period of time during parts of a service. Having the opportunity to put in ink those ideas which have only until then existed in my hands encompasses both an ease of conception (in that I have been playing with the motives for some time) and a maddening difficulty (as of one trying to pin down the images of a dream). Variations on a Shape-Note Hymn (alternately, And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on) explores the American shape-note tune What wondrous love is this. The sketches of the piece were completed just miles away from where the hymn was originally published in Lynchburg, Virginia, as well as in Asheville, North Carolina, areas where the hymn would have been boisterously sung. The work builds in rhythmic and textural intensity with each variation, alternating between freely interpreted and more precise statements of the tune. Its most explicit statement is in the double fugue which drives the work to its climactic closing, evoking the closing words of the hymn: “and through eternity, I’ll sing on.” The work was commissioned by and is dedicated to Jordan Smith and Symphony No. 1.

— Douglas Buchanan

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