The opening fanfare reveals the quartal harmonies on which the whole work is based. The march in traditional form is labeled “grotesque” because of its awkward intervals, the “halting, limping” effect in the percussion and the shifting meter signatures.
In “Somber Shades” all the instruments are muted. The movement opens with soft gong sounds from which an undulating theme in the second horn begins a gradual ascent picked up by the first horn and second trumpet. The first trumpet entering with the main theme continues the melodic rise to a grand peak then descends in retrograde fashion. The undulating theme returns (also in retrograde fashion) until the second horn fades into the sound of the gong.
The final movement opens with a “blazing” series of chords that lead to a theme of driving energy presented in canonic style. A return of the fanfare of the opening movement played molto accelerando closes the suite.
Fanfare and Grotesque March – Movement 1 (excerpt)
Somber Shades – Movement 2 (excerpt)
Blazing Fury – Movement 3 (excerpt)
The “Love Theme” of this work is presented by the violin after a short piano introduction which itself is based on the “Love Theme” mirrored. These two themes, the original and the mirrored, alternate, then gradually intertwine until a portion is heard simultaneously. The instruments then begin to exchange this theme portion building to a climax of a few measures in unison. The coda highlights the first interval of the two themes (a major seventh ascending and a major seventh descending) moving to a unison note which represents the Biblical passage, “These two shall become one.”
Music is a unifying force, and yet is expressed in so many differing ways. This thought, central to the National Federated Music Clubs, is the basis of the composition. The quartet opens with unison pitches in fanfare-like manner. Gradually wider and wider intervals emerge leading to the opening theme in the first violin accompanied by sustained fifths in the cello with the second violin and viola offering syncopated pizzicato chords. Then the cello and first violin exchange roles. Finally the theme is heard in unison by the two inner instruments with the outer ones adding the punctuated chords. Descending pizzicatos lead to sustained chords by the three lower strings while the first violin plays a lengthy cadenza-like melody. The final section is in fugato-style using the melody of the NFMC national hymn, “Lasst uns erfreuen,” as thematic material. The ending is the opening in retrograde, the final note being in unison as it was in the beginning.
The Harlequinade in English theater was a development from commedia dell’arte, the name usually given to the popular Italian improvised comedy which flourished from the 16th to the early 18th centuries. In the opening scene a persecuted lover is befriended by a good fairy who gives him a magic wand and changes him and his companion into Harlequin and Columbine; thus the name of the play became Harlequinade. The rest of the performance was devoted to the escape of the lovers from Columbine’s father, Pantaloon (Pantalone). This escape was aided by the magic wand, which, when slapped on a side wing or on the stage, gave the signal for a change of scene. This composition is based on the Harlequinade, thus its title. The flute is Columbine, the clarinet, Harlequin, and the bassoon, Pantaloon. The bassoon in a very high register also appears as the good fairy. The magic wand is portrayed by a wood block. The opening “sets the stage” and permutations of this music will appear later in the work. We then hear the young girl (flute) enter, followed by the young boy (clarinet), and then a little duet as they lament their problem (Columbine’s father, Pantaloon). Enter the good fairy (bassoon in high register) to whom they tell their troubles. With the sound of the woodblock the lovers are changed into Columbine and Harlequin and whisked away to a new locale, China. A section based on a Chinese folksong follows. We hear again the opening but now in a Chinese mode (the pentatonic scale). Columbine and Harlequin are happy until the arrival of Pantaloon who gives chase. To escape Harlequin strikes the wand again (the wood block); the two lovers are transported to Russia. There follows a section based on a Russian folk tune and the opening is heard again with a Russian flavor. Once more Pantaloon appears and a fugato-like section, based on the theme of the clarinet, envisions the chase. A very abbreviated version of the opening with an accelerando brings the work to a close.
La commedia dell’arte is the name usually given to the popular Italian improvised comedy that flourished from the 16th to the early 18th centuries. The commedia dell’arte style was marked by the harmonious collaboration of a group of players improvising dialogue and situations around a previously agreed upon scenario. Although most scenarios have 12-15 characters, many subplots, and convoluted events, I choose five main characters, each to be represented by an instrument in the woodwind quintet. My scenario remains true to the spirit of the more complicated plots.
The instruments and the characters they represent are: The Young Lovers; Isabella, flute; Ottavio, oboe; Pantalone, Isabella’s father, bassoon; Capitano Spavento, Isabella’s suitor, horn; Arlecchino, Capitano’s servant, clarinet
The movements are: Prologue, Scene I, Scene II,Scene III, Intermezzo, Scene IV, Scene V, Epilogue
The music faithfully follows the scenario, which the narrator reads at the beginning of each scene. Multiphonics are used to evoke events such as knocking on a door and actors tumbling to the ground. Each of the quintet instruments is given a three-measure theme in a different mode to portray a character. These themes appear in various permutations. Sometimes, the themes of “offstage” characters are heard as the character is being discussed or alluded to. The prologue opens with a march representing the actors’ entrance. Each character is introduced in turn as his/her theme plays against the march. The march also appears in the Intermezzo as a frame for the five themes played simultaneously. The matrimonial nature of the plot is evoked by brief references to Wagner’s “Bridal Chorus” and Mendelssohn’s “Wedding Processional.” In the epilogue the themes are heard in fugue-like entrances that lead to an abbreviated form of the march in grandiose style as the actors exit.
Approx. 13 minutes
Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon, Horn, and Narrator