Variations on Simple Gifts (2008)
Commissioned for the rededication in 2008 of the Skinner organ at the Episcopal Parish of St. John the Evangelist, St. Paul, MN.
Premiere: James Frazier, Saint Paul, MN 10/08
Published by MorningStar Music. Distributed by Canticle.
From the Press:
With the ghost of Copland hovering, David Evan Thomas gives us an introduction, theme, five variations, and a finale. Harmonies shimmer as the composer explores that quintessential American tune, “Simple Gifts,” through a half-dozen key changes and as many moods. Yet there is a pervading, straightforward simplicity about the music that always keeps in touch with the Shaker hymn. The work is long for Sunday morning worship. Each variation transitions without pause to the next, so there is no graceful way of excerpting. the work might serve as an extended prelude for a service that includes “Lord of the Dance” or some other text sung to “Simple Gifts.” Also the many registration changes would be tough to pull off without pistons. These challenges aside, Thomas’s piece deserves to take its place in the American repertoire alongside Rorem’s A Quaker Reader and Samuel Barber’s Wondrous Love variations.
–Karl A. Osterland. CrossAccent, Journal of the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians, Nov. 2013
David Evan Thomas is a composer, pianist, and singer who resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota. This work was written in 2008 for the organ rededication at St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. This piece will require some practice time, but it is sure to reward you with a work that you will find many occasions to use! Included in the set of variations are an introduction, theme, and six variations on the tune SIMPLE GIFTS. Though the individual variations can be used as service music, the whole set of variations makes for an exciting concert or recital piece. The musical language is refreshingly contemporary but not jarring. The overall work is indeed challenging but attainable – and well worth the work that you will invest into it!
–Scott M. Hyslop, The Stanza, American Hymn Society
After a brief toccata, the theme “Simple Gifts” is introduced, along with a dance motive taken from it. There are five variations and a brilliant, rather jazzy finale. The work was conceived for an instrument with three or more manuals, with loud reeds in at least two divisions.