Music Appreciation: Serenade op. 22 by Derek Bourgeois

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Wow! My blog is one year old! Thanks to those who have shown your support – I truly appreciate it. So to celebrate, I’m listening to Serenade by Derek Bourgeois (b. 1941), a piece I never tire of hearing (or playing!) I actually had planned on writing about a different piece until I realized it was my anniversary. I’ll come back to that other piece later. The Serenade is calling me now.

Bourgeois originally composed Serenade for organ in 1965, to be played at his wedding (and it was originally titled Wedding March). According to the score for the wind band arrangement that’s published by G&M Brand – British Music Publishers:

Not wishing to allow them the luxury of proceeding in an orderly 2/4, the composer wrote the work in 11/8, and in case anyone felt too comfortable, he changed it to 13/8 in the middle!

The reason I’m adding that quote is because there’s another story out there that Bourgeois composed this so his new bride would be comfortable walking down the aisle with a broken leg. I’m not finding much in the way of support for that tale, so I’m sticking to what the publisher has on the score. But no matter the real story, I think you’ll like this piece. I first heard it played by the Harmonika-Verein Holzgerlingen accordion ensemble in Germany on one of the trips we took with the Crystal Lake Community Band and fell in love with it immediately. Sometimes I pull this piece out at the end of a practice session as a fun way to wrap up the work I’ve done. (Band geek alert: Thanks to the SmartMusic practice system, I get to play it with a full band accompanying me in my living room!)

While Serenade was originally for organ, I’m going to talk about the concert band arrangement today, partly because that’s the arrangement I’m most familiar with. The composer arranged the piece for several other ensembles, including the one for band.

Remember that 5/8 section in Armenian Dances by Alfred Reed? That will feel positively normal after hearing this piece. There isn’t a regular 4/4 measure to be found here. And that’s what makes it so delightful.

Several of the low and middle voices introduce us to the piece with two measures of a lopsided oom-pah in the key of B♭. You should be able to hear 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-11 which, due to how fast those little beats are played, is conducted as four larger, although lopsided, beats (otherwise the conductor would look like he’s trying to take off in flight). Bourgeois keeps the same pattern of emphasis throughout this first section (3+3+2+3), unlike Reed who alternated between 2+3 and 3+2.

(Does this talk about beat patterns remind anyone else of the movie Clue?)

At 0:06 we hear the primary theme introduced by the oboe and first clarinets. It’s such a happy little tune, isn’t it? While the accompaniment is holding steady with its oom-pah pattern, notice that around 0:17-18 we get a little bit of syncopation to keep us on our toes. We start to repeat the melody at 0:19, but we’re soon joined by the second oboe and clarinets who briefly take over the melody while the firsts continue with some harmony. They switch roles again briefly before we go into the next theme.

The piccolo and E♭ clarinet take over at 0:32. We get a bit of tension here as Bourgeois introduces an A♭ into the melody, a note that’s not native to the key of B♭. (We had this happen back in my discussion of Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man). It’s just enough of a change for the ear to hear that something is different, even if you don’t know that it was specifically an A♭. He briefly lulls us back into the happy melody before bringing up that A♭ again (0:43).

At 0:46, we hear the beginnings of the piccolo/E♭ clarinet theme from 0:32, but notice this time he moves the melodic line up just a bit more before coming back down (0:48). From there, we hear a little more of the theme before he moves into a transition to the next section of the piece. At 1:05 we’re still in 11/8, and the beat pattern is pretty much the same as we’ve been hearing, but he places more stress on each of the main beats, finishing with a flourish up into the 13/8 part of the piece.

Now we have a new beat pattern: 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-11-12-13 (or 3+3+2+2+3 as shown in five larger beats; 1:08). While we’re in a new meter of 13/8, the theme still sounds similar to what we’ve been hearing all along. At this point, almost the entire band joins in. We hear echoes of both the first theme and the piccolo theme; notice how the repeated note from 1:23-1:26 adds tension? Like an itch that needs to be scratched. Then we get a buildup that travels first into 11/8, then a measure of 7/8 (can’t let us get complacent!) before making the final jump back into 11/8 (1:38-1:43).

Ah, 1:43, where the upper winds get trills and flourishes and the bass voices, many of whom have been oom-pahing this whole time, get to actually play… the melody! Well, a taste of it anyway, as it’s altered a bit in order to lead into the final push of the piece. At 1:56 we hear the final big statement of the theme, played by the upper brass and woodwinds (the basses have gone back to their usual oom-pah role). We get a nice alteration of the repeated note motif at 2:10, giving us one last bit of tension before easing up at 2:16 with reduced instrumentation and dynamics.

We continue to get quieter, hearing a horn solo continue the theme with clarinets and saxes as accompaniment (2:23). We continue fading out, but Bourgeois isn’t done teasing us yet. He finally throws us a “normal” time signature (12/8, which is four equal beats instead of the lopsided 11/8 we finally got used to), but he manipulates the rhythm so we still aren’t completely comfortable. He finally takes pity on us and closes the piece with a cute flourish from just a few instruments. You almost think he’s still pulling your leg and that something else will happen, but he lets us rest after that.

I hope you’ve enjoyed celebrating my anniversary with me. Thanks again to all those who have visited my blog over the past year!

P.S. I thought some of you might want to hear this played on organ, since that’s the original instrument Bourgeois wrote for. Enjoy!

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