Donald Grantham's Fantasy variations
Donald Grantham’s composition, Fantasy Variations, started its life as a work for two pianos, commissioned by the Race/Groves Duo. The primary motivic material is based on George Gershwin’s Second Prelude from his Piano Preludes, Book 1. A second version was later to be commissioned by Jerry Junkin and The University of Texas at Austin Wind Ensemble for a performance in Carnegie Hall, New York, on 19 February, 1997. Fantasy Variations has since been honored with two awards: the 1999 Twenty-second Annual National Band Association/William D. Revelli Memorial Band Composition Contest award, and the 1999 American Band Masters/Ostwald Composition Contest award. The work has received critical acclaim and numerous performances, including two compact disc recordings. The purpose of this treatise is to examine Donald Grantham’s Fantasy Variations in light of those aspects relevant to the conductor and performer of the work. A brief history of George Gershwin’s compositional style is examined, with particular attention given to his book of piano preludes. The compositional structure of Fantasy Variations is assessed, as are the issues associated with its preparation for performance. The treatise concludes that Fantasy Variations successfully achieves the composer’s goal of effectively communicating a personal style of expression through the unique manipulation and orchestration of existing material from a popular American composer. The treatise reflects on the possibility that, using the wind band, Grantham was able to accomplish what Gershwin only dreamed of throughout his short life—the legitimization of his works, raising them from the ranks of popular music into the elite world of art music.