Brad Mehldau’s Variations on a Melancholy Theme is out now on Nonesuch Records, avaialble everywhere here. The recording features the pianist/composer and Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, which commissioned this orchestral version of the work, which comprises a theme and eleven variations plus a cadenza and postlude; the album also includes an encore, “Variations ‘X’ and ‘Y.’” Also out today is a video with Variation 4, which you can watch below. (Mehldau originally composed Variations on a Melancholy Theme for pianist Kirill Gerstein.) Mehldau and Orpheus toured Europe, Russia, and the US with the piece, including a 2013 performance at Carnegie Hall. Mehldau has several solo tour dates and shows with the Brad Mehldau Trio in Europe this summer; see below for details and tickets, or visit nonesuch.com/on-tour.
Speaking to the combination of classical form with jazz harmonies in the work’s musical language, Mehldau wrote, “I imagine it as if Brahms woke up one day and had the blues.” He continues, “The theme itself has a wistful character, perhaps a feeling of resignation. There is some sense of finality and ending to it when heard for the first time already. So as I composed, a narrative challenge emerged; namely, how to embark on a story that begins with a conclusion. While the theme evokes melancholy, I let it be used as a springboard for other happy, wild, violent, and reckless emotions as the variations progress.”