Variations on an Enigma was commissioned by Howard Snell for the Desford Colliery Band and first performed by them in Gillingham, Dorset, England in September 1986.
The ‘Enigma’ is a short snatch of a phrase taken from a well-known brass band test piece - a phrase which caught the imagination of the composer who took it as the basis of a sort of concerto for band with each section featured in turn. First the cornets have their turn, with a ‘moto perpetuo’, and they are followed by the horns and flugel whose variation is delicate and decorative. Trombones follow, each having there own tune in turn and then combining them together. Euphoniums and baritones have an expressive funeral march which is interrupted by percussion and basses who share a rhythmic, syncopated variation. A climax is reached and this is followed by a fugue (based on the theme) against which snatches of the preceding variations appear. The fugue heralds what turns out to be the theme on which all the variations are based, appearing in full at last, whose first five notes are derived from the ‘enigma’ theme. The piece ends with an emphatic final statement by the timpani.