At the age of thirteen José Vianna da Motta composed the Variations on an original theme, op. 47 in E minor which is classed with his childhood works written between 1873 and 1883. This composition is built on the theme and variations principle, a musical form that Vianna da Motta used throughout his life as a composer. See, for example, compositions such as Variations sur l'hymne de Sa Majesté D. Louis 1er, op. 43; Grande Fantaisie Triomphale sur l'hymne de Sa Majesté Le Roi D. Ferdinand II, op. 48; Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in A major; Ballade on two Portuguese melodies, op. 16.
Contrary to his usual way of working, Vianna da Motta does not seem to have done a careful revision of the Variations on an original theme, op. 47 manuscript, the only source that made the editing and publication of this work possible. The inaccuracies of the manuscript, as well as its difficult readability, raise several doubts about his intentions. In some variations, we opted for the addition of accidentals that the composer did not write in order to either preserve the harmonic structure of the theme (b. 1-18), or to adhere to the logic of the passages musical writing. Some of these accidentals were written in brackets, driven from the uncertainty generated by the musical context.
In his manuscript, Vianna da Motta divides measure 20 with a double bar. At the end of measure 27, he writes a repeat sign indicating a return to the second half of measure 20 (although he forgot to include the two dots indicative of repetition). Consequently, the composer didn’t write the first half of measure 28. The proposed solution to this problem in this edition took criteria of a structural and harmonic nature into consideration. Regarding structure, there were three possibilities: (1) to silence the upper voice and keep the lower voice active, as in the theme and in variations no. 3, 6, 8 and 9; (2) to silence all voices, as in variations no. 2, 5, 7 and 13; (3) extend all the voices, as in variation no. 12. We opted for the third possibility to avoid the sudden break of the motive of thirty-second notes and because the circumstance of Vianna da Motta’s lapse – the use of repeat signs instead of completely rewriting it – reveal that the composer didn’t want silence in the transition between the passage and its repetition. It is also possible that Vianna da Motta played only one beat at measure 28 without realizing it.
Regarding harmony, there were two possibilities: (1) to use the tonic function, as in theme and in variation no. 3; (2) to use the dominant function, as in variations no. 8, 9, 12 and, to a certain extent, in no. 6. We opted for the second possibility to avoid the tonic chord, a product of the resolution of the dominant chord, being played at the same time as the C note.
Finally, it should be noted that although Vianna da Motta wrote a trill on the E note in measure 37 – which indicates that E and F(♯) notes must be played successively – it is likely that the composer actually wanted E and D♯ notes to be played successively, pursuing the logic of the chromatic pattern that appeared on the previous measure. This hypothesis is reinforced by the rhythmic accelerando suggested by the writing, which implies that the trill, in this case, must be played faster than the thirty-second notes.
João Costa Ferreira