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