Music Appreciation: America the Beautiful by Carmen Dragon

I was having a hard time figuring out which piece to discuss next, so I decided to talk about one of Hubby’s favorite pieces: “America the Beautiful” as arranged by Carmen Dragon (1914-1984). I like it, too. I think it’s hands-down the best arrangement of this song.

Pikes Peak

Pikes Peak

“America the Beautiful” began life as a poem by Katherine Lee Bates (1859-1929), written in 1893 after a trip to Pike’s Peak. Samuel Augustus Ward (1847-1903) was a composer and organist. His hymn tune, “Materna,” was first used as a setting for “O Mother Dear Jerusalem.” In 1904, the tune was used for Bates’s poem, and the rest, as they say, is history.

In 1960, Carmen Dragon set the piece for concert band. Dragon had a long a lustrous career. He was especially known for conducting the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and composing quite a few film scores. I know he had some sort of a connection with Ohio State University, but I’m having a hard time finding info on exactly what that connection was. [Thanks to Ron for shedding more light on the occasion – check it out in the comments section]. Regardless of the type of connection, Dragon’s arrangement was done for (and premiered by) the university’s concert band. For some neat archive audio (including the premiere performance), click here. [Fun fact: Carmen’s son is none other than Daryl Dragon of Captain and Tennille]

 

The piece starts with a bang, quite literally, from the timpani. The hit turns into a roll that crescendos, with the other instruments joining in on held notes or runs. It’s a short-but-effective pre-intro to the actual introduction that begins at 0:04. From there, we catch a glimpse of the refrain. Just a glimpse, though, as Dragon takes that little snippet and moves it around, modulating it until we hit the peak of the intro (0:21). Listen especially to the arpeggios moving underneath and the luscious chord progression that happens throughout this section.

The first iteration of the tune (0:30) is rather straightforward (though still quite lovely). We get the melody in the reeds (clarinet, sax, and English horn), with a mid- to low brass chordal accompaniment. It has a reverent feel to it; in fact, the tempo marking is “quasi religioso.” At 1:00, a few more instruments join in and we get a little bit louder, but we come back down at 1:15 as we close out the theme. Listen for that wonderfully placed note of tension in the horn (and other middle voices) at 1:13. Delicious! Then it has a great, small line at 1:17-1:18. At 1:23, the last line of the theme, we start in unison but branch out into harmony right before the interlude.

The entire ensemble joins in quietly at 1:29 (except the poor baritones – not sure why they’re left out in the cold for a couple measures). There’s new melodic content for the interlude, with arpeggios and held chords underneath. There’s a subtle change at 1:35, where the accompaniment has long triplets and the chords get a bit squishier than regular triads. The horns and saxes make a comment at 1:42, and the transition continues to build up tension. We relax just a bit before the next time through the theme.

At 1:51, we start the theme anew. This time, it’s mostly woodwinds who start us off. The melody is straightforward, but the harmony has some crunchy notes added. We change moods at 2:06; most of the upper winds are on the melody, and the horns (and some middle winds) have a slow line upward. [Note: Hubby would like me to point out how that line splits into octaves at 2:10 and really helps build power. I agree it’s quite effective.] The rest of the brass (and some winds) take over that line at 2:13, speeding it up and giving it even more power. There’s also a crescendo happening from the entire group throughout all this.

There’s the briefest slowdown around 2:18 before the apex of the piece hits at 2:19 with a cymbal crash. We have everyone at full bore here, with a nice counter-melodic line from some winds and the horns. We get another well-placed tension note at 2:31, this time from the trombone and baritone. The group quiets down as we reach the last phrases of the hymn. Naturally, there’s a nice descending horn line at 2:35 (they really are good at that sort of thing), and there’s some ebb and flow in the tempo. I like the clusters of chords happening here; it lets you know we’re not quite ready for a final resolution.

At 2:46, we hear the final phrase “from sea to shining sea.” Earlier, this was done in unison. This time, the rhythm is unison, but the notes have harmony. While the chord at 2:53 sounds like it could end the piece, Dragon has the group quickly crescendo into a coda section. We get a powerful triplet motif starting at 2:55, led by the upper winds and brass, a powerful chord coming in on beat two as an echo. This repeats, then at 3:00 there’s a bunch of neat stuff happening: repeated triplets from the brass, triplet runs from the winds, powerful punctuation from the rest of the brass, middle winds, and the chimes. The ensemble unites in slower triplets at 3:05 to reach the final hurrah. They strike a chord, followed by echoes and a grand glissando down to the final, powerful note.

Thank you for joining me in learning about one of Hubby’s favorite pieces. I’ll see you next time!

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Music Appreciation: Cuernavaca by Joseph Willcox Jenkins

Throughout the course of this blog, I’ve talked a lot about my college music experience. I was recently reminded of something else from that era when I saw the music for “Cuernavaca” by Joseph Willcox Jenkins show up on my music stand at our first band rehearsal this season. Way back in either my freshman or sophomore year, we played this piece in band.

I hated it.

Now that so much time has passed, I honestly couldn’t tell you why I hated this piece so much. I had forgotten that I’d ever played it until I saw the music again. Was it something about the piece itself? Did we play it badly? Did I not like something the conductor was doing? Did we spend a disproportionate amount of time on this piece compared to other things we played that term? Did I simply like other pieces better?

Cuernavaca, Mexico

Cuernavaca, Mexico
(image license: CC0 Public Domain)

I’m sure there are many other questions I could ask about my experience with Cuernavaca, but I don’t know if I would ever really learn the answers. I will say, though, for whatever reason, I rather like the piece now. I couldn’t tell you if it’s because I’ve learned more or my tastes have changed. Perhaps both? But now I can say I’m looking forward to working on the piece over the next semester.

Joseph Wilcox Jenkins had a lengthy career in composition, working as the arranger for the U.S. Army Field Band, the U.S. Army Chorus, and later as a professor of theory and composition at Duquesne University. By and large, his most popular work is American Overture for Band, which I’ve played several times over the years. It’s easy to find recordings and information about that piece. Cuernavaca? Not so much. I took a look at the score (dated 1969), and there’s just this brief note:

“Cuernavaca, a work in Latin-American style, was premiered by the Duquesne University Band in Pittsburgh. The main idea of the work is a fast Rhumba, which evolves into a frantic type of “Mexican Hat” dance in 6/8 meter. The secondary idea is a reposeful Tango. The treatment of the material is in a relatively free Rondo form. The work is included in the Educational Record Reference Library band series.”


The piece begins with a bold statement by the trumpets and percussion, answered by the middle and lower voices of the band. The trumpets restate their theme, almost note for note, with the last bit echoing to lead us into the body of the piece.

At 0:20, the accompaniment sets the tone for the rhumba. The melody enters at 0:26, played by the upper winds. After their first statement, the trumpets answer with a fanfare. We hear another section of melody and fanfare (0:37), then the horns push forward with a syncopated motif (0:45). The upper winds continue with the melodic line, with the horns in an echo (0:55). The melody adds some bounce to it before smoothing back out to end the phrase. A brief, three-note motif is passed around beginning at 1:03 to take us into the next part.

Although the trumpets repeat their initial statement at 1:09, the answer changes moods from what we heard at the beginning. The winds have a bouncy motif at 1:18, then at 1:25 the trumpets take over the transition. There are two bars of syncopated 4/4 time at 1:28, then we transition into 6/8 time and lay the foundation for the dance.

At 1:35, the trumpets and piccolo (flutes, too? It’s hard to hear in this recording) take over the melody. While they essentially repeat the first statement of this theme, it’s been shifted in time just slightly (1:40). At 1:50, the mood changes just a little for the next bit of the theme, and this time there’s more of a melodic echo (1:54). The trumpets enter again at 2:04. Although it feels at first they are starting another new melodic section, they’re actually setting up a transition. Beginning around 2:09, they play a four-note descending motif that is echoed by other instruments, similar to what happened at the piece’s introduction. Listen for all the four-note snippets between here and 2:31. There’s also a gradual slowing down and softening of the ensemble to lead us into the tango.

The bassoons provide us with a tango rhythm at 2:32, then a solo flute and bass clarinet play a snippet from a previous melodic line (2:41; it’s hard to hear the bass in this recording, but it’s there). But this is still introductory material for the tango; the oboe solo enters with the theme at 2:53. The bassoon, and then the clarinets, answer with their own motifs. The oboe plays again at 3:30, but doesn’t finish her theme with a firm ending (3:51). Instead, the clarinets take the last few notes and repeat them, waiting for something to happen…

Which it does at 4:05, when the percussion decides they’ve had enough of the slow tango section and want to pep things up. But the rest of the group isn’t quite as ready yet, compared to what we heard way back at 0:26. This time the theme is played by a flute solo, and instead of accented accompaniment notes, there’s just a sustained chord, which adds a tense feeling to all of it. The trumpets still have their fanfare (apparently they agree with the percussion!), but then it’s right back to the solo flute and the sustained chord (4:27).

Instead of continuing with the rhumba, at 4:34 we switch over to the fast dance theme similar to what we heard at 1:50. The horns get a chance to echo at 5:03 then usher in the four-note descending motif. At 5:10, the trumpets recall the opening melodic line of the piece. When they repeat it, we expect to continue with that we’d heard earlier, but Jenkins isn’t ready to take us there, yet. Instead, he slows it back down again in order to give us one last glimpse of the tango section (5:46). The line passes from flute, to oboe, then to the horn, before making our last transition into the rhuma (6:21).

The trumpets shout out an abbreviated fanfare at 6:27, and we embark on a recap of the first rhumba theme. Jenkins keeps it note-for-note here (Well, except for the power drill at 6:48. That’s new.)

Around 7:19, we shift into the coda section so we can bring the piece to a close. Jenkins bases the ending on the fanfare. I like the excitement at 7:30, especially with the piccolo emphasizing the upward sweep of notes. The piece ends with big, accented chords, with the percussion hammering away. The last chord isn’t a straightforward major triad, which kinda goes along with pieces of this era. It works, though, and it’s what Jenkins gave us.

I’m glad I got a chance to revisit this piece. While I love “American Overture for Band,” it’s nice to hear another work by Joseph Willcox Jenkins and perhaps bring it back into our concert band consciousness. Sadly, the music appears to be out of print, but maybe there’s hope for a resurgence.

In case anyone is interested in how our community band performance went, here’s the audio:

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Music Appreciation: 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 🙂

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Music Appreciation: 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!
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Embrace the Holiday Spirit With This Famous Masterwork

Feel the crisp night air. See the snowflakes falling gently to the ground. Hear the sound of people singing from an old church nearby. The holiday season is upon us, with all its wonder and beauty.

Russian church in the snow

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

 

Composer Alfred Reed brings those wondrous feelings to music life in his timeless work for concert band, Russian Christmas Music. He composed the piece in 1944, then made some revisions before arriving at the published work (1968) that’s still played today. Russian Christmas Music is a staple of concert band literature (like his Armenian Dances, which I’ve discussed previously).

Reed used and old Russian carol as the thematic basis for the piece. You can hear it at the YouTube link below, or 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 begin solemnly, with a sustained low note and a slowly repeated chime. It sounds like a call to Mass. We hear carol singing from the clarinet section, slow and haunting — a beautiful lush sound. Other instruments join in as the song continues into its next part (the lyrics talk about the “shaggy pony, shaggy oxen,” 1:12), 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 churches today.

Antiphonal Chant (3:05-6:46)

With a crescendo, the percussion lead us into the next section of the piece. 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 back and forth between two groups. The trombones lead the chant again at 3:28, but this time the other brass join in for the answer (3:37). The brass continue with 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. Triumphant, the brass come in 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 feels 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 beautiful lines this instrument was made for! Listen closely to this melody; it will come back later in the piece. The English horn finishes its statement, and the flutes and oboes bring back a bit of liveliness (5:37) without overdoing it. There’s a horn call, and the clarinets respond with another pious statement (5:44).

At 5:57, the English horn returns with another lovely melody. The upper winds enter again 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 serving 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, exploring tone colors. The oboe run at 8:23 signals a turn into new territory. We hear 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 glorious 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 ever further 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 understated 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 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!

 

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