Clifton Williams (1923-1976) was born in Arkansas and attended high school in Little Rock, where he became an accomplished french horn player. He studied composition at Lousiana State University and the Eastman School of Music. He taught composition for 17 years at the University of Texas at Austin before becoming chair of the composition and theory department at the University of Miami in 1966. He held this post until his untimely death at age 53. His first compositions were written for orchestra. His career as a wind band composer took off in 1956 when Fanfare and Allegro, his first composition for band, won the inaugural Ostwald Award given by the American Bandmasters’ Association. His Symphonic Suite won him the award again the following year. He went on to write over 3 dozen works for band, many of which are considered essential repertoire.
Variation Overture is Wiliams’s only piece for young band. Fortunately, it has all the hallmarks of his style, with ostinatos everywhere, some harmonic surprises, and a heavy dose of melodic lyricism. Its form resembles that of his earlier Symphonic Suite, with the variations proceeding through an opening fanfare, an initial slow march, a waltz, a singing section, then vigorous and powerful ending. The program notes from the score read as follows:
Variation Overture is a serious effort on the part of the writer to utilize mature techniques of composition within a simple framework. The theme with its contrasting idea is treated in four varied ways, resulting in a piece cast in the form of a concert overture and made cohesive by use of the [single theme]. [It is] intended to be within the intellectual and technical command of average bands, while interesting enough for more experienced groups. The actual writing of the work took place during August and September of 1961.
The world premiere performance of Variation Overture was at the American School Band Directors’ Association Convention at Cleveland, Ohio, December, 1961, performed by the Northwest High School Band, Canal Fulton, Ohio, with Mr. Emil Puffenberger, Director.
The piece is also dedicated to ASBDA.
Here is a high school band performing the piece: