Two Variations on a Theme by Sousa Full Score

“Two Variations on a Theme by Sousa” is a playful expansion of the first few seconds of one of John Phillip Sousa’s famous marches, “The Fairest of the Fair.” The piece was conceived during a car ride; I was overcome with inspiration by a particular melody, sounding in my head on a flute. Later, after transcribing this melody, I realized that it was simply a transformation on a tune that Sousa had already used over a century ago. Even though my original idea had lost its illusion of novelty, I felt inspired to continue pursuing it, and that’s when I knew a variations piece would be perfect. Rather than exactly parroting the style and form of a march, I decided to focus mainly on the capturing and transforming character of its melody. I rearranged, repurposed, and recontextualized fragments of the opening motive to showcase the robust durability of Sousa’s melodies. In this way, Sousa’s work parallels his life’s work; just as his music survives transformation, his legacy survives time.

Two Variations on a Theme by Sousa


About the Artist

Matthew Nell is a pianist and percussionist composer at the University of Texas. Matthew focuses on blending conventional and modern techniques in harmony and tonality to achieve music that is comfortingly familiar yet also excitingly novel. So far, he has written primarily for solo instruments and chamber ensembles, with some success; his woodwind quintet received 1st place in the 2019 Carson Thomas Miller Texas Emerging Composers Competition, and he has received several readings of his work from notable ensembles, including Transient Canvas. Matthew is continuing his study of piano with Joshua Straub and his study of composition with Donald Grantham.