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Variations on O Holy Night
for orchestra

Full Orchestra
String Orchestra
Wind Ensemble
Solo Instrumental

Variations on O Holy Night was commissioned by the Carthage College Philharmonic, directed by Dr. Edward Kawakami.

Variations on O Holy Night is a rousing audience pleaser, enjoyable for the orchestra to perform, and with depth to fulfill any pedagogical needs. Roger's mastery of orchestration and clear understanding of instrumentation makes the work sit very nicely under the fingers for strings, winds, brass, and percussion while giving each section substantial material to perform. From the reflective opening to the massive, tutti ending, it was an audience favorite at its premiere, and my students are clamoring to play it at our holiday concert next year! - Edward Kawakami

O Holy Night was composed by Adolphe Adam in 1847 and quickly became an extremely well-known Christmas carol. Its colorful harmonies and soaring melodic line provided an irresistible subject for a set of variations when I was asked to write a piece to be featured on Carthage College's Christmas Festival. Each of the three variations seamlessly blends Adam's melody with another famous Christmas carol.

The music begins with an introduction. Serving like a variation itself, fragments of O Holy Night fade in and out over surprising harmonies. The flutes begin by suggesting the first three notes of the melody, and later brief horn and oboe solos take turns stating a piece of the middle of the tune. Finally, a flute solo emerges to lead the orchestra into a complete statement of Adam's O Holy Night.

The first variation takes a fragment from the middle of O Holy Night and begins to pass it around the wind section, with a militaristic march-like rhythm driving the music forward. As the trumpets take up the fragment, a hint of another carol emerges in the strings. Moments later, it becomes clear that the guest in this variation is Veni Veni Emmanuel, which is stated in a grand fashion at the end of the variation.

The music suddenly calms at the beginning of the second variation. A flowing accompaniment provides the foundation for a new version of the original theme, now in triple meter and stated by the violins. At the end of each phrase, a hint of another Christmas carol appears. First stated by a solo horn and flute, and then by a solo trumpet, the lyrical strains of The First Noel meld with the altered O Holy Night melody.

The third variation begins with a fugato, with the leaders of each of the woodwind sections passing around a subject based on the second half of O Holy Night. As the momentum builds, another familiar Christmas tune begins to fit perfectly into the texture. This time, it is the grand and flowing setting of "Gloria in excelsis Deo" from Angels We Have Heard on High. The finale of this variations set interrupts the middle of one of the statements of the hymn with an energetic restatement of the swells from the introduction, leading to one last celebratory statement of O Holy Night, filled with ringing bells.

Duration: ca 10'

  • 2 Flutes, 2 Oboes, 2 Bb Clarinets, 2 Bassoons
  • 4 Horns in F, 2 Trumpets in Bb, 3 Trombones, 1 Tuba
  • Timpani, 3 Percussion
  • Organ (optional), Strings
To purchase printed scores and sets of parts, please visit Murphy Music Press. If you are interested in purchasing pdfs or need a quote for a purchase order, please contact me.

Watch the premiere by the Carthage College Philharmonic, conducted by Dr. Edward Kawakami

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This work is published by Murphy Music Press. If you are interested in purchasing pdfs or need a quote for a purchase order, please contact me.

Copyright © by Roger Zare Music, ASCAP. All Rights Reserved.