Chamber music for winds and strings by Pamela J. Marshall
Ravello Records

Examinate Variations

duo for flute and cello


I wanted to write for the Addington-Barringer Duo as soon as I heard them perform Elliott Carter on a concert of the Vortex Series for New and Improvised Music. The theme comes from my 1-minute Composers Voice piece titled “Examinate” for flute, viola and double bass. I’m not fond of classical variation form--it’s structure is too predictable; but variations seemed right for this, with an established theme that was a miniature, but complete, piece.

Friends and supporters supported the creation of this piece with donations to my Spindrift Commissioning Guild. Check out the Credits page for more information.

The Music

My approach to variation is not that different from general theme development. In each variation, some element of the theme is emphasized and worked on through the whole variation. The more obvious transformations include: a sagging canon, inverted canon, harmonizing in thirds. Other transformations are barely recognizable: rhythm only and layered into 4 parts played by two players (Static), notes drawn out long (Sostenuto), and a jaggedly jazzy ending.

Here's the beginning of the theme:


The canon softens the rhythms of the theme. It gradually sags downward in pitch. In m.4, the cello drops a half step.

The time interval between the voices also changes. In m.11, tthe cello enters after 3 beats, instead of after the 5-beat interval at the beginning. Internal rhythms within the melody vary too, and the cello has sagged down to a whole step.


In the third movement, the cello bursts in with a gentle glissando on harmonics and the canon is inverted.


In Sostenuto, the theme is distilled into sustained chords.

Fragments of the theme are a reminder of the source of the sustained texture.

Near the end, the flute plays a brief birdcall, echoing the harmonics of the the cello's opening.


Will o'the Wisp is a direct presentation of the theme, with the voices playing together, harmonized in 3rds or 6ths.


Static is the most analytical of the variations. The theme was reduced to just rhythm, layered into four voices in different registers, then edited to make it playable by two musicians. At the opening, all four parts are covered in unison rhythm.

The canonic interval varies and by m.17, each player is jumping back and forth between different voices.


The final movement, Slinky, is jazzy, with a pizzicato bass intro. When the flute plays the melody in m.10, the music feels laid back and sultry -- a big contrast to the highly rhythmic preceding variation.


Ashley Addington's comments about the music

"Rachel and I were instantly enamored with the wide spectrum of emotion that Pam captured in "Examinate Variations" when we read through it for the first time. As a slightly unusual duo as far as an instrument combination goes, we have been working to fill the gap in music for flute and cello. Pam's piece provides a wonderful opportunity for the instruments to duel and sing together through the playful, jazzy, or almost Renaissance-like drone variations."


To create an image to represent Examinate Variations, I overlaid this abstraction of a Costa Rican butterfly with a faded-out picture from my garden. The image reminds me of Rachel's agility as a yogi and the butterfly quality of her outfits.


Get the Sheet Music - Examinate Variations for flute & cello