Variations on McGillicuddy’s Rant was composed intermittently over a twenty-three year period, and I got to hear
a performance of the complete set for the first time around 2003.* The theme was written in 1980,
around the time I started taking composition lessons. Before it had a name, I played it for my guitar teacher (Stephen Wingfield),
who, for no apparent reason, suggested I call it "McGillicuddy’s Rant."
I probably should have asked why it he suggested this quirky title
(I know no McGillicuddys, and I don't believe he did either, so where did that name come from? And what is a musical "rant?"),
but I liked the sound of it, so I used it.
I also arranged the theme for piano, which can be found in “11 Short Piano Pieces.”
According to the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2nd ed., it turns out that a musical "rant" is “a lively country dance… a variety of the polka step in an anacrusic 6/8 or 2/4 rhythm which is hopped or skipped.” Calling my slow and meditative theme a "rant" is therefore wrong, at least if one were to insist on following correct word meanings in the naming of one's compositions, but by the time I realized this I had become too fond of the title to change it. I extend my humblest apologies to rant connoisseurs offended by this egregious and cavalier lexical misapplication.
The (non-rant) theme is in sectional binary form, and is followed by ten variations that are all short character-pieces: Jig, Wistful and Nostalgic, Scherzo, Bluesy, Arabesque, Bluegrass, Folk Dance, Chorale, Prelude, and a modified Reprise.
It has been released on CDs by Daniel Bolshoy (McGillicuddy's Rant (Centaur, 2009), which strikes me as an exceptionally good name for a CD), and Sylvie Proulx (Sirocco (Centaur, 2011), which is a fine name for a CD too, I guess). Both are amazing performances, with distinctive and unique touches.
©Clark Winslow Ross
(Performed by Daniel Bolshoy, from his CD: "McGillicuddy's Rant")
(Performed by Sylvie Proulx, from her CD: Sirocco)
*Richard Bradley, a fine guitarist and friend when I lived in Toronto, played an early version of this consisting of the theme plus the first four variations (as well as an ambitious fugue variation that I subsequently deleted from the set) in a recital during "Guitar 84" (or was it "Guitar 87"? I don't remember), a huge international guitar festival held in Toronto. His performance was broadcast nationally on CBC Radio, and I think it may have been the first time I got to hear my music on the radio. Subsequent performances took place in 1990 by Dale Ketcham (Lethbridge, Alberta), 2002 by my brilliant guitar student Andrew Wicks (St. John's, Newfoundland), 2003 by Michael O'Toole (Dublin and Limerick, Ireland), and 2005 by my friend and collegue here at Memorial University, Sylvie Proulx (St. John's, Newfoundland), who subsequently recorded it for her 2011 CD, "Sirocco." I'm not sure who performed the complete set of variations first, but it may have been Andrew Wicks. More recently, this piece had a huge boost when another very fine guitarist and friend, Daniel Bolshoy, recorded it on a CD entitled "McGillicuddy's Rant" (released November, 2007) and performed it over 70 times in 2007-08.