16 Variations on a Russian Birthday Song

For Recorder Quintet ATTBK

Score and five Parts

I have always been a fan of variations because this form allows me as a composer to combine the strongest formal unity with the sharpest emotional contrasts. My first bigger composition were the 12 Variations on Von fremden Ländern und Menschen for piano solo (1988). 2014 I wrote the 16 Variations on an Irish Jig and 2015 the 12 Variations on an Old Dutch Dance Tune (Canarie). In this January my friend Sabine Huttel asked me to write an arrangement of a famous Russian birthday song for string quartet. I immediately fell in love with that song and decided to write variations on it. The song is played in the Russian animation movie Gena, the Crocodile from 1969, Victor Schainsky composed it and the lyrics translate like this:

Let the pedestrians walk clumsily through the puddles
And let the water run over the asphalt in a river.
It’s unclear to the passersby,
On this rainy day,
Why I’m so happy.

But I’m playing the concertina
For all the passersby to see.
Birthdays only come once a year.

I wish that a wizard
Would fly in, in a light blue helicopter,
And show a movie for free.
He would wish me a happy birthday
And probably, leave as a present
500 ice cream sandwiches.

The mixture of humor, irony, sentimentality, melancholy and joy in this song and its lyrics seems to be typically Russian - at least as I have learned to know Russia in the novels of Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Gogol, and Jerofejev. By the way: My birthday is in November, it was often cold and rainy, and yet it was always the best day of the year when I was a child (thank you, mum!).

Originally I wanted to write 12 variations - but more and more ideas came into my mind, and I tried to explore all the hidden corners of that tune and find as many surprising twists as possible - jocular, playful, thoughtful, tender, yearning, in love, crazy, cheeky, desperate, coltish, triumphant.

I wish to thank the Tokyo Recorder Ensemble for the wonderful premiere of this piece at the Tokyo Recorder Festival on August 24, 2019. My connection with Japan is one of the most beautiful gifts I have received in my life as a composer.

Here you see the shortened version of the Tokyo Recorder Festival:

And here the whole premiere one month later:
Theme and Variations 1 - 5:

Variations 6 - 10

Variations 11 - 16

Have fun listening!

number of pages: 
24,90 Euro