Tam o’Shanter by Malcolm Arnold

As it’s Halloween, it’s time to talk about a piece I’ve had on my list since I started the blog: Tam o’Shanter by Malcolm Arnold. This piece has ranked in my top tier of favorite pieces ever since I first heard it many years ago. Arnold (1921-2006) was a prolific English composer who wrote a variety of works, from string quartets to ballets to movie scores.

Malcolm Arnold took his inspiration for this piece from the poem of the same name by Robert Burns (1759-1796). It tells

"A Scene from Tam O'Shanter."

“A Scene from Tam O’Shanter.” Photo credit: Summonedbyfells. Used by permission under a Creative Commons license.

the tale of dear Tam o’Shanter, a farmer who spent one evening getting drunk with friends (well, he spends many evenings getting drunk with friends, but the poem speaks of one night in particular). He finally begins his trek home on his mare, Maggie, while a storm is brewing. That’s not the only thing in store this night, however:

The wind blew as ‘twad blawn its last
The rattling showers rose on the blast
The speedy gleams the darkness swallow’d
Loud, deep, and lang the thunder bellow’d
That night, a child might understand
The Deil [Devil] had business on his hand

But perhaps we should go back to the beginning:

We begin on octave Es throughout the range of the strings, just a hint of sound. The clarinets mimic a bagpipe drone at 0:10, giving us a clue to the location of our tale (Ayr, Scotland, near Burns’s birthplace). The piccolo plays a short motif; it’s rather a sweet beginning that feels like we’re taking a peek into village life.

But with another chord from the flutes and clarinets, the pub door opens and Tam stumbles out. He’s so sloshed he’s seeing double – bassoons, that is. We have a wonderfully drunk bassoon duet at 0:23, which is accented by some sliding around in the brass. At 1:00 we catch glimpses of the impending storm, but Tam continues on his meandering way to find his horse (1:20).

Tam gets Maggie and starts toward home as the storm gains intensity (1:30). Tam seems to have just enough wits about him to sense the severity of the storm, as evidenced by the trombone solo at 1:43 (note, though, that he’s still rather drunk and sliding about the notes). The wind blusters about and Tam presses Maggie onward toward home. Listen how convincingly Arnold paints this mental picture of Tam and Maggie tearing across the countryside during a furious storm. You can hear the rhythm of hoofbeats underneath the swirling winds (2:36).

We get a brief respite beginning at 2:50, a lull in the storm. We hear a different version of Tam’s drinking song in the piccolo (2:57). Perhaps he’s thinking of his dear wife, Kate, who had warned him about going out yet again. We can still hear the hoofbeats and some thunder claps despite the piccolo trying to sing a slightly sweeter song to us.

The storm rears its head again (3:15), this time prompting Tam to use the whip on poor Maggie, who probably isn’t dilly-dallying anyway. I’m sure at this point she just wants to be home at the barn with some hot mash and hay. The trombone returns to the drinking song at 3:47, this time with more urgency (though still not nearly sober enough). The storm refuses to abate.

At 4:22, the landscape shifts. Everything’s still intense, but now we get some fast, ominous trills in the strings. The brass and winds hold out long tones that sweep upward at the end. There’s another shift at 4:44, with most of the ensemble playing a variation of the hoofbeat motif. The brass continue with their long notes. There’s yet another shift at 4:55, the storm reaching its crest. Tam has to be almost home, right?

“And, wow! Tam saw an unco [strange] sight!” It turns out he has ridden past the haunted Alloway kirk (church) and discovered a coven of witches and warlocks! They’re having a grand old time when Tam sees them at 5:15. If you listen closely, there’s some resemblance between this theme and the opening piccolo solo. Perhaps some foreshadowing by Arnold? You can hear the bagpipe drones underneath it all and some horn rips starting at 5:27.

The theme fades into the distance as someone catches Tam’s attention (5:38). It’s Nannie, a witch Tam thinks of as “winsome.” I’m sure it has absolutely nothing to do with her wearing a skirt short enough to show her “cutty sark” (underknickers). Tam is transfixed. Meanwhile, the party continues (5:46), with the addition of a great, harsh brass line.

At 5:58, we’re reminded that there’s still a storm going on. We have a different hoofbeat motif from before; I think Maggie’s amazed at what she’s seeing as well, although she might be getting a little impatient at this point. But Tam really wants to stay and watch Nannie (6:21). The bacchanal continues in its frenzy, building and building until Tam can no longer hold it in and shouts —

“Weel done, cutty sark!” (6:58)

Tam O'Shanter Makes His Escape by Mary and Angus Hogg

“Tam O’Shanter Makes His Escape” by Mary and Angus Hogg.
Used by permission under a Creative Commons license.

Well, THAT certainly caught everyone’s attention! And not in a good way, either. The witches and warlocks see him (and poor Maggie) and shoot after them in hot pursuit (7:01). Tam uses the whip again (7:14), desperately trying to flee the witches. But ahead he sees a bridge! As long as he crosses it, he is safe, because in folklore witches cannot cross water (in this case, the river Doon). As he crosses the river, the sounds of the coven diminish and we hear a beautiful, slow chord progression from the flutes and clarinets (8:00). Tam is safely across the river, and the nightmare is over.

Or is it?

One witch is still in pursuit and gets close enough to pluck Maggie’s tail clean off!

With that, I present the closing lines:

Now, wha this tale o’ truth shall read,
Each man and mother’s son, take heed:
Whene’er to drink you are inclined,
Or cutty-sarks rin in your mind,
Think! ye may buy the joys o’er dear;
Remember Tam o’ Shanter’s mare.

If you’d like to hear a delightful reading of the poem, check out Irene Michael’s rendition.

There’s a great recording of the band version of this piece on the CD “Arnold for Band.” Purchase it from Sheet Music Plus and support the blog!

Sheet Music Plus Homepage

Get a recurring 10% discount!

Variations on a Korean Folk Song by John Barnes Chance

Let’s return to the band world and talk about one of the staples of the repertoire, “Variations on a Korean Folk Song” by John Barnes Chance. I’ve had the opportunity to play this several times over the years – it’s such a great piece.

Gyeonghoeru Pavilion at Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul, South Korea

Gyeonghoeru Pavilion at Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul, South Korea

Chance (1932-1972) pursued bachelors and masters degrees from the University of Texas and served in the military as part of a military band. While stationed in South Korea, he was introduced to the folk song “Arrirang.” The tune stuck with him and he eventually used it as the basis for “Variations on a Korean Folk Song.”

Before we dig in to the piece, I’d like to talk about the pentatonic scale. So far, most everything I’ve discussed here on the blog has been based on major or minor scales. Those are the ones most familiar to us from piano lessons, band, and choir. But I’d wager you know the pentatonic scale even if you don’t think you do – just play the black keys on the piano. Everyone’s done that, right? If you want to construct the scale in a different key, use the pattern W-3H-W-W-3H (i.e. C-D-F-G-A-C). “Arrirang” is based on the pentatonic scale.

I selected the reference video because 1) the excellent musicianship and 2) Frederick Fennell was the conductor. Fennell was (and still is, actually) an icon in the band world.

Theme

The piece begins with the melody on its own, played by the clarinet section in its lowest register, which is called the “chalumeau” (referring to the instrument from which the clarinet descended). At 1:27, other woodwinds join in to finish the first time through the theme.

The theme repeats at 1:44, this time with saxes and baritone. One thing to observe is that it starts on the same note as the previous section ended (A♭), effectively changing the key for this part. We’re used to melodies starting and ending on the same note; that doesn’t happen here. The piece began on E♭ and ended on A♭. Now we’re starting on A♭ and will end on D♭. Anyway, the saxes and baritone have taken over the melody, with sustained chords from most of the rest of the band. Midway through, the clarinets and horns have the melody, with half of the horns breaking into harmony on the downward phrase (2:03). The parts come back together to finish out the theme, then repeat the last motif several times as the sustained chords modulate (2:18), leading us into the first variation. The trumpets, who have managed to stay silent so far, decide they can’t wait any longer and join in with the high winds in an echo of part of the melody (2:27).

Variation I (2:38)

With just a small hit from the gong, we’re off into our first variation. Some of the winds and the temple blocks dash off into a whirlwind of activity beginning on beat three. Try to listen how the up and down of the melody corresponds to the theme we heard at the beginning. At 2:45, there’s another gong hit and the other woodwinds start the variation melody on beat two, echoed by the original group of woodwinds (plus a few more) on beat three. The flurry intensifies, leading up to the trumpets coming in boldly with a phrase from second half of the theme (2:52). Another flurry finishes out this part.

At 2:58, we start the variation over, this time with the flutes, piccolo, and low clarinets (unfortunately, it’s hard to hear those low clarinets in this particular video. But if you stick with me, I’ll make it up to you at the end of the post). Another difference is that the percussion is getting a bit more active, especially during the second half. The oboes and trumpets come in with the statement at 3:05, with the original group of flutes and low clarinets continuing on beat three. The clarinets, horns, and baritone take their turn at the bold motif (3:11) while the others scurry about.

The bass line jumps in with the variation melody at 3:17, but Chance changes it up a bit: he has them playing right on beat one. There are now two echoes that come in on beats two and three. But then the first echo (trumpets) essentially skip a beat and come in on beat one (3:20) with the second echo (high winds) on beat two, forcing the original line (low instruments) to wait until beat three. I can tell you from experience that the bass line doesn’t like to have to wait! In every group I’ve played this with, the bass line always tries to jump in a beat or two early. It’s a band fact of life. We just hope we finally get it right during the concert.

Anyway, there’s a cacophonous rush to 3:25, a catch of breath, and then the band presents a final flourish as one to end the variation.

Variation II

The clarinets, low reeds, and horns play a slow accompaniment to bring in the next variation (3:33). Chance highlights the oboe here with a beautiful solo. This whole section is sumptuous. And while it’s easy to get lost in the lush music, listen to the line of the melody. It’s an inversion of the theme, meaning that its ups and downs are flip-flopped from what we heard before. I feel it works particularly well here and is just as good a melody as the original tune. The clarinets and flutes (playing in a low register) take over for a few measures at 4:00, but everyone really just wants to hear the oboe again. We’re given that at 4:08.

Similar to what happened in the theme, this variation repeats itself using the last note of the melody as the new beginning note (4:20). The flutes, alto sax, and first horn lead the way; the clarinets, low reeds and brass, and the rest of the horns have a similar but slightly different accompaniment. The end of the melody gets repeated a few times in preparation for the ending of this variation.

A trumpet solo soars over the low accompaniment, the melody back to its right-side-up form. He plays just the first half of the theme, sustaining his final note as transition into the next variation.

Variation III

A quick “fweep” from the group, and we’re off into a brisk march tempo (5:03), the horns, baritone, tuba, and timpani forging ahead toward a new variation. Now we’re in 6/8 time, and the trumpets take the lead on the melody, a rollicking line that plays with the timing of the original theme. The woodwinds continue to “fweep” here and there, adding punctuation to what the trumpets are saying.

The woodwinds take over at 5:22, the trombone accompaniment more sustained (but not slower) than the previous group’s accompaniment. It’s not a long statement, as the middle voices come in at 5:28 with just a brief quote. Then we’re back into the fray – the trumpets playing their melody, the woodwinds swirling about in the stratosphere, and the lower voices stomping out an accompanying rhythm.

At 5:42, the horns repeat their brief quote, with the winds cascading down to a single sustained note in the lowest clarinets, saxes, and brass. The snare drum’s rhythm provides the intro for the new melody.

Variation IV

The band moves together in rhythm here, the theme stripped down to its bare bones. You can hear the upper voices playing the normal line and the lower voices playing the inverted version. Only the percussion give us any reference to the sprightly section we just heard. There’s a sweep up to the second half of the melody (6:11). The flute and piccolo sustain a high trill while the rest of the group finishes the tune. This is the shortest variation, and there’s only a slight pause on a sustained chord before leaping into Variation V (6:27).

Variation V

We haven’t heard much from the percussion since Variation I, but that changes right here. Holy cow, what a great group of players! The dude on the temple blocks is freaking amazing (6:38), and all the other parts are spot-on. The vibraphone comes in with a motif at 6:42, with the flutes echoing at 6:44 and the E♭ and first clarinets following at 6:47. Not content with that, Chance adds one more layer in the second and third clarinets and alto and tenor saxes at 6:50.

Amidst all that chaos, the brass arrive triumphantly with the melody at 6:53. It’s a bit more ornamented than in the previous variation, but still slightly simplified from the original statement way back at the beginning of the piece. To pack an extra punch, the bass voices don’t enter until 6:57. We hear a glorious combination of steady vs. frantic, with almost everyone coming together at 7:09 (the percussion are too caught up in the frenzy to realize something different is happening). The majority of players have sustained melody and accompanying chords, with several flourishes from the reeds. At 7:18, the trumpets and a few other voices play the motif that we heard at the end of the theme, then the percussion dance through one last brief moment before the final flourish of the piece.

Here is the other recording I thought about using, mainly because you can really hear the bass and contra clarinets in Variation I and II. Enjoy 🙂

Sheet Music Plus Homepage

Get a recurring 10% discount!

Proclamation by Lori Archer Sutherland

As I was deciding what to write about next, my husband suggested I write about one of my own pieces. Namely the piece Proclamation, as it came about thanks to O Filii et Filiae, which I discussed in my previous post. After thinking about that a bit, I decided to do it. I’ll admit I’m nervous about this post. Most of my compositional works are transcriptions and arrangements, so talking about one of my original compositions in this format is outside my comfort zone. Since it’s my piece, I can’t help but talk about some of the creative process behind writing it. I’ll follow up with my normal walk-through of the piece.

After transcribing O Filii… for the horn choir, my husband asked if there was something else I could arrange as a companion piece. I thought about that, then decided I wanted to compose a new piece instead of doing another arrangement. I came up with some basic ideas somewhat quickly – it would be a short piece, anitphonal (two quartets conversing with each other), same instrumentation as O Filii…, in the same or a complimentary key, and things like that.

Cor Corps premiering "Proclamation" - April 2015

Cor Corps premiering “Proclamation” – April 2015

I did quite a bit of mulling things over in my head, playing around with ideas for melodies and rhythms. I came up with my initial theme and got some good work done on that, and played around to get an idea of my theme B. And then I got stuck. And life happened. And my piece got put to the side for a long time (as in, a few years, I’m ashamed to say). I did some other music projects during that time, though Proclamation was still in the back of my head. I don’t know how much composers talk about this kind of stuff out in the open, but I had writer’s block. And a big dose of fear. What if I couldn’t actually finish the piece? What if everyone hated it? What if…? It’s hard to put art out into this hypercritical world, where it feels like everyone demands perfection.

Eventually, I had to put aside my doubts and fear and finish the piece. I was writing this piece for my husband, and I hated the thought that it was still languishing, partly finished, for way too long. I got back into working on the piece, sometimes I felt inspired, other times I had to make myself sit down to work on it. More than once I’d think I got something going, then the next day I’d look at it again and wonder who wrote that crap. But I kept working on it. Things started to come together. I had a great sounding board in my husband. He helped me figure a few things out, especially in the transition section. I also let a trusted friend hear an early draft; he made a helpful observation about the ending, which I was able to change and make better (thanks, KJ!)

So after all that, let’s listen to how it turned out. I have more info on the creative process in the footnotes; feel free to skip those if you’d just like to read the analysis of the piece.

It begins with the first horns sending out a call, answered by the second quartet (horns 5-8). (I should warn everyone – I love funky meters, so there’s a fair amount of 5/8 and 7/8 sprinkled throughout this piece). At 0:10 the call goes out again. This time it includes the second horns, adding the thirds and fourths in the next measure. The call changes slightly in the second measure.

The second quartet answers the call, expanding the line. At 0:22, all horns join in, but only briefly. The low horns begin a line upward (0:25) that continues in the first horn to lead into the next bit. It’s a bouncy bit that grows layer by layer, until everyone is in at 0:33. The ensemble continues to grow in volume and intensity until the peak at 0:36, with the first horns at odds with the rest of the group rhythmically. The tension clears once everyone hits a big D major chord at 0:39, the low horns beating out a rhythm that slows and quiets down, leading into the B section of the piece.

For this part, there is a change in mood, but not necessarily a change in tempo. You’ll hear more quarter and half notes than in the first section, and the time signature stays in 3/4. The dynamic level is quieter. At 0:48, the second quartet leads with the melody. Listen to the first few notes – they’re the same as theme A, just in a different rhythm and mood. Horn 8 restates the quarter note pattern from 0:39, but it’s not as punctuated as before. The first quartet answers with a slightly longer phrase (0:54), and horn 4 comes in with the quarter note motif.

The second quartet restates its line at 1:04, again answered by the first quartet. But this time, their answer is a little different and much shorter. The second quartet comes in again at 1:12 in a slightly shifted key and even quieter. 1 At 1:15, we start to transition back to theme A. Listen for the layering within and conversing between the quartets here. 2

During the transition, we start with longer rhythms (dotted half notes and half notes) and work back toward the quarters and eighths we’re more familiar with from the beginning of the piece. There’s also a change from 3/4 to 2/4 (1:31), then back to 3/4 with syncopated entrances, the volume building until we reach 1:37, where we hear the familiar call from the first measure of the piece.

The form of the piece is A-B-A; what you hear beginning at 1:37 is the same as the first section. This time around, the bouncy section at 2:02 begins in a familiar way but gets an extra bump at 2:09 before pushing into the finish. Instead of the first horn working downward like it did leading into the B section, it continues higher and louder to its final D (the rest of the major chord being filled in by the other parts). The lowest horns return with their motif, but start it with dotted quarter notes before changing to quarters to propel toward the final chord from everyone.3

As with O Filii… I’m very proud of the Cor Corps and their performance. I’m thankful for the chance they gave me with this piece. I’ve done other arrangements for the group, but this is my first original work I finished for them. I’m pleased to say the piece was received well by the players and the audience. I’ve been asked to arrange this for full band for the fall, so I will be working on that very soon. That will bring a new set of challenges, but I already have ideas for accomplishing what I want to do.

And yes, I have another shameless plug: the sheet music and recording are available through Sheet Music Plus (note: this is my affiliate link which supports the blog). There are a lot of independent composers and arrangers with their work on SMP. Please consider browsing their pieces when shopping for new music!

Have a great July and I’ll see you next time on Tonal Diversions!

Update:

I did indeed arrange this for full band, and it was premiered by the Crystal Lake Community Band in May, 2016. I’m very happy with how it all went! I have the sheet music available at Sheet Music Plus (see link a few paragraphs above). Here is the performance:

  1. That bit was a part that kept wanting to be in the piece. I liked how it sounded when put up against the part immediately preceding it, but it was giving me fits because I was trying to put it in the first part of the B section, making it difficult to turn it into a full theme. Once I figured out it would work better leading into a transition, things fell into place and I started expanding the lines from 1:04 instead of trying to force the part at 1:12 to be something it shouldn’t.
  2. This section took some trial and error to get it the way I was hearing it in my head. This is where I’m thankful for my music processing program, where I can easily change things (and hit “undo” when they don’t work!) This is also where my husband’s ears came in handy – I could bounce ideas off him and get feedback.
  3. The ending went through many different iterations before I decided on this one. I feel overall it is a stronger ending than my original one.

Galop by Dmitri Shostakovich

Let’s take a look at another piece by our Russian friend Dmitri Shostakovich, a prolific

Dmitri Shostakovich, 1942

Dmitri Shostakovich, 1942.

composer who lived from 1906-1975. Galop is a short, frenetic piece from the satirical operetta Moscow, Cheryomushki. The plot of the work deals with housing issues in Moscow (specifically the Cheryomushki neighborhood) and follows a group of characters new to the housing development. Even though I’ve played this piece several times, I’d never really paid attention that it was part of a larger work. It was interesting to read up on the operetta. Apparently it was made into a movie version in 1963 – I’ll have to check that out sometime.

I’m having a hard time finding much else about this piece, such as when it occurs within the operetta and what exactly is happening during it. (Update: Thanks to a reader, Sue, I now know that this piece provides dancing music for a housewarming party. Watch this video around the 7-minute mark). It’s also a piece that seems to be far more popular in the band world than in the orchestral realm, at least that’s how it appears from my Google searching. So with that in mind, I’ll talk about the band version, which was arranged by Donald Hunsberger.

 

Hold on to your hats, because we’re in for a wild ride! A galop is just what you’d expect: a fast and furious piece. Don’t look for a soothing lullaby here.

We jump right in to theme A, no introduction necessary. Remember this theme, as it will come back more than once. I’d consider this piece to generally have a rondo form, which means that theme A alternates with other themes (i.e. A-B-A-C-A etc.).

Anyway, we burst out of the gate with the full ensemble, flying along at breakneck speed. We’re in a minor key despite the speed. Often times we like to distill major and minor keys into fast = happy = major, or slow = sad = minor (I’m guilty of it myself). This piece is a good reminder that music (and its keys) has many moods.

Theme A is repeated, then jumps immediately into theme B (0:19). The saxes and middle instruments take over the melody while the other sections interject statements throughout. The mood is somewhat different here, still not really happy, but a little lighter than theme A. The descending line at 0:23 has a bit of a laughter effect. As with theme A, theme B repeats.

Back to theme A at 0:31 (what did I tell you?), two times through.

Theme C (0:43) changes mood again. This time the high winds are fluttering about with a subdued oom-pah accompaniment underneath. This is probably the cheeriest part of the piece, which isn’t saying much. It sounds like a crazy polka to me. Like all the other themes, C is repeated.

And we come around to theme A again, repeated (0:55).

At 1:06, we get a new theme and a new mood. Theme D is more lyrical than the previous themes, though it’s disrupted by the descending laughter lines (such as the one at 1:11). We’re still at the same tempo, but it doesn’t feel quite as frantic here. Shostakovich changes to mostly eighth and quarter notes for this theme, compared to the eighth and sixteenth notes he’d been using before. So while the basic pulse stays the same, we’re changing how many notes are played during each pulse. He also changes the articulation to mostly slurred (smooth) lines. Up until now, we’ve heard choppier notes. Those types of things can change the mood of a piece, and we didn’t have to change the tempo to accomplish that.

After the second time through theme D, we don’t go back to theme A, which is what we’re expecting based on the pattern so far (1:31). I consider this more of a bridge than a theme E, partly due to it a) not strictly following the rondo pattern and b) it’s not a phrase of eight to fourteen measures that gets repeated like every other theme we’ve had. This feels like the break strain/dogfight section of a march, where there’s a conversation between the lower and upper ends of the ensemble. The low brass and winds finally decide they’re going to have their say here, as they’ve mostly been oom-pah-ing this whole time (with the exception of the laughter lines).

But despite the argument, the ensemble pulls together at 1:43 for one final round of theme A (repeated, of course).

At 1:55, we return to theme B. Or do we? Nope, Shostakovich is providing us with a coda (a finishing section of the piece). He uses the idea of theme B, but turns it into an ending instead of a way to lead into the next theme.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the gallop through the neighborhood of Cheryomushki. If anyone happens to know what exactly happens during this piece in the operetta, drop me a line in the comments!
Sheet Music Plus Homepage

Get a recurring 10% discount!

Russian Christmas Music by Alfred Reed

So I’m much later than I’d planned for this post, because 1) I’m a musician and it’s

Russian church in the snow

Russian church in the snow. Photo by tpsdave (via pixabay)

December, one of my busiest months, and 2) I couldn’t decide which piece to discuss. Then I realized it would be silly not to talk about Russian Christmas Music by Alfred Reed, one of the staples of band literature.

I’ve talked about Alfred Reed before, but since his works are so embedded in concert bands everywhere (and I’m such a band geek), it’s inevitable that I would feature another piece of his on the blog. Russian Christmas Music was originally composed in 1944; however, it underwent some revisions before arriving at the published work (1968) that’s still played today.

Before getting into the piece, I want to share the carol that provides the thematic basis for the piece (you can find the sheet music at IMSLP):

 

Now, on to the piece!

 

While Russian Christmas Music is performed as one continual piece, there are four distinct sections.

Children’s Carol (beginning-3:04)

We start rather solemnly, with a sustained low note and a slowly repeated chime. It sounds like a call to Mass. Then we hear carol singing from the clarinet section. It is slow and haunting, a beautiful lush sound. We’re joined by other instruments as the song continues into its next part (the lyrics talk about the “shaggy pony, shaggy oxen,” 1:12). There’s some call and answer between woodwind and brass.

We add another layer of voices at 1:36, continuing to build in volume and range, until we hit a beautiful major chord at 1:54. The chime and low drone renew their presence, bringing us back down to our previous somber tone.

The clarinet choir begins its theme again (2:06), but does not play it through entirely. The brass join in at 2:30 with a hymn-like chord progression. The woodwinds answer at 2:47, their line reminiscent of choral amen responses still heard in some churches today.

Antiphonal Chant (3:05-6:46)

The percussion lead us into the next section of the piece with a crescendo. At 3:08, the trombones initiate the chant, with a response from the woodwinds at 3:16. “Antiphonal” traditionally means something is sung (or played, in this case) back and forth between two groups. The trombones again lead the chant at 3:28, but this time the other brass join in for the answer (3:37). The brass continue with some long chords that serve as a transition into the next theme of the chant.

At 3:58, the clarinets play a more upbeat chant, with other instruments adding to it in layers, creating a short fugue as it builds. The brass come in triumphantly at 4:10, starting with the clarinet chant theme, then switching to the trombones’ chant theme (4:16).

The woodwinds come in with the fast chant at 4:30, with the brass punctuating each phrase. There’s a whirlwind of sound, culminating in a tense chord (with a run of woodwinds in the background), a cymbal crash, then a single pitch from the lower brass. The revelry dies down into a more subdued manner, with the clarinets playing a descending line that makes it feel like they’re lowering down piously onto bended knee (4:50).

The English horn enters at 5:05 with a gorgeous solo. Seriously, these are the types of lines this instrument was made for. Listen closely to this melody, as it will come back later in the piece. The English horn finishes its statement, and the flutes and oboes bring back a bit of the liveliness (5:37) without overdoing it. There’s a horn call, and the clarinets come back in with another pious statement (5:44).

At 5:57, the English horn comes back in with another lovely melody. The upper winds again enter with their dance, this time joined by the clarinet line we heard earlier at 4:50. Another horn call finishes the antiphonal chant section and prepares us for the village song.

Village Song (6:47-10:09)

Once again, the clarinets are featured as they provide the initial theme of the Village Song (I swear that’s not the only reason I like this piece!) This time, however, there’s a wonderful string bass pizzicato line underneath the rich, smooth chords of the clarinet choir. This section has a folk song feel to it, though I don’t believe it was taken from an existing melody like the Children’s Carol. This section is in 6/4 (six beats per measure with the quarter note as the beat).

At 7:20, more instruments come in, creating a very organ-like sonority. Notice that despite the added voices, the volume has not increased much. The instrumentation is reduced again at 7:28, but the oboe remains with the clarinet choir and bells take over for the string bass. We have one more round of fuller orchestration (7:37) followed by the oboe and bell feature (7:44).

One small horn call at 7:51 leads into the second verse, so to speak, of the Village Song. Reed continues to alter the orchestration of each phrase. The oboe run at 8:23 signals a turn into new territory. We hear some slight changes to the melody, with some additional ornamentation in the horn at 8:27 and 8:31. We still hear some familiar sounds until 8:42, when he introduces a new note (A♭, when we’ve largely been in the key of G minor here). It’s repeated at 8:46 and 8:50, reinforcing that something is different. The phrase winds down, ending in a lovely major chord (9:01). There’s one more horn call, then the pious clarinet phrase from the antiphonal chant.

We’re treated to another English horn solo at 9:22, though this time it stretches upward more before coming back down. The horns reply, not with the horn call we heard earlier, but more of an “amen” feeling that prepares us for the Cathedral Chorus.

Cathedral Chorus (10:10-end)

A low drone from the bass voices begins this last section. Above that, we start to hear gongs, cymbals, bells, and chimes. The trombones come in with a new motif, which is repeated and extended. It repeats again, this time breaking out into a chord (10:59). More and more layers of brass enter with a repeated small motif; eventually, the middle and upper woodwinds add their voices.

As the texture builds, the rhythm quickens from using half notes in places to using quarter notes. The overall tempo doesn’t increase all that much, but thanks to using shorter notes we feel like the pace is quickening. This builds until 11:32, where most of the ensemble moves as one in quarter notes with the brass sounding their calls between phrases. Notice the pace did get a bit faster and it still feels as if we’re building toward something.

At 11:45, we hear a wonderful wall of sound – most of the ensemble has a long, short, long chord motif, the timpani is wailing away underneath, the high winds are buzzing furiously above, there’s assorted percussion crashing about, and the horns and trombones have an answering call. We still continue to build, pushing everything to the limit, reaching, until we hear four powerful chords at 12:17. The entire ensemble cuts off together, then comes in as one with a mighty statement at 12:23, finally tapering down into quietness. (I’ve talked before about the ends of notes being as important as the beginnings. Here’s another perfect example of that.)

Remember the English horn theme from earlier? The clarinets pick up that theme at 12:36. I love how the oboe subtly joins them at 13:29 – it takes an excellent oboist to blend that entrance so well without sounding like an injured duck. After the oboe’s successful entrance, more instruments start joining in. We start building once again, this time toward the final push of the piece. The horns give an extra nudge at 13:46, encouraging us onward.

The trumpets and horns explode in a powerful rendition of the English horn theme at 13:53, with a glorious cacophony happening in the other instruments between phrases – low brass thundering, high winds twinkling, chimes ringing joyfully. The woodwinds take over the melody at 14:10 so that the high brass can play a fanfare (14:16). They return to the melody for the next phrase, but the horns join the woodwind line at 14:23 and completely own it.

As we go into the next phrase, we expect to keep building toward the finish, but Reed surprises us by bringing down the volume at 14:42. It’s brief – we immediately begin to crescendo again – but he gets our attention. We build again until we reach a strong chord at 14:49, bringing in more joyous cacophony. The chimes are ringing throughout the land and you can hear the high winds swirling fervently in the atmosphere. The brass are bold and strong, bringing back the trombone’s theme we heard earlier, with cymbals crashing, timpani pounding, and horns calling. I love the bit at 15:20, where the brass unite in a slightly accelerated rhythm, the cymbals crashing purposefully (and perfectly) in each of the brass’ rests. The horns continue their calls, with the rest of the ensemble providing a mass of sound, finally holding on to a solid chord as we finish the piece with a final punch.

Such a powerful piece! If you don’t feel some sort of emotion during the Cathedral Chorus section, you obviously don’t have a soul.
If you don't feel any emotion during the Cathedral Chorus section, you obviously don't have a soul. Click To Tweet

So that wraps up my final post for 2014. Merry Christmas to those of you who celebrate, and I wish all of my readers a lovely holiday season. I’ll see you in January!

 

Looking for the sheet music? Try out Sheet Music Plus and support the blog!

Sheet Music Plus Homepage

Get a recurring 10% discount!