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Pavel Zemek Novák St. Mary Variations (2000)

For piano quartet

13 minutes

1. Left Aisle (Spring) (Variations 1-5)

    Ritornello 1

2. Centre Aisle (Summer) (Variations 6-10)

    Ritornello 2

3. Right Aisle (Autumn) (Variations 11-12)

    Ritornello 3

4. St. Peter’s Chapel (Winter) (Variations 13-17)


The variations are based on the Clipping Hymn of the famous church of St. Mary in Painswick, Gloucestershire, the architecture of which has itself influenced the compositional structure of the work (as is evident from the movement titles). The fast motion of the variation sections recalls the speed of life’s changes (and the changing of the seasons) around the church, while the unchanging nature of the Ritornellos points to the centuries old unchanging nature of the church itself. The Ritornellos are static and each has a duration of just 33 seconds.


The most remarkable feature of the work is the quietness of the dynamic, which springs from the idea of Marian spirituality as well as from Mary’s quietude and calmness. Pavel Zemek Novák is a composer who exploits extremes of both dynamics and textural sonority, but in this work the overall dynamic rarely rises above pianissimo and often the performers are instructed to play pppp or even ppppp.


St. Mary Variations was commissioned for the Schubert Ensemble by the Painswick Music Society, to which the work is dedicated. The work was first performed by the Schubert Ensemble in St. Mary’s, Painswick in April 2000.


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