05 July 2009


On the joyous occasion today of the first anniversary of a brave couple who commissioned the music—a From the Archives Special:

The entire compliment of instruments for the [Opus 93] July Wedding Music is: organ, clarinet quintet (i.e., clarinet and string quartet) and brass quintet. Brett very helpfully furnished details of the course of the service/ceremony, especially where music was wanted, rough duration of music required, and even a few remarks on character or instrumentation. At first the organist was apparently a bit nervous, and quite understandably. Responsibility for a wedding’s music normally rests squarely on the organist’s shoulder; then too, so much of the music prepared for most weddings comes from the same folder of a relatively small sampling of music . . . any organist worth his salt masters all this repertory in a couple of years’ time . . . and the idea of having to prepare, from scratch, a substantial amount of music newly written for the occasion (and the composer an unknown to the organist), and that smoldering pile over there in the corner is all that remains of the organist’s Comfort Zone. But the restoration of the organist’s equanimity was, for me, the work of but a moment . . . .

Apart from, say, an organist’s paradigm-shift from “I’ve already got most of whatever music may be required in my fingers already” to “I’ve got to learn new music, and I don’t have the music yet, nor do I even know yet just how much music I have to learn,” such a project is a classic instance of the practical need to harmonize the composer’s artistic freedom, with the perfectly natural expectations of music which is suited to the occasion. What we don’t want (neither the composer, nor the bride or groom) is anything on the order of the Pope demanding that Michelangelo explain his decision to include three Christs, a kangaroo and a mariachi band on the canvas of The Last Supper.

Thus, (and even though I didn’t compose the numbers in order, see below) I thought of the music’s unfolding in roughly these terms: the music’s character starting out in something of a stylistically ‘free’ vein, reflecting the gradual gathering of the guests from ‘the world without’; and gradually adopting a more solemn (though not sombre) tone befitting the beautiful and elevated purpose of the Sacrament of Matrimony; and at the last a cheerful (though still ‘formal’) Recessional to send everyone forth into the world in joy over the happy occasion.

Although I did not write the music in ‘service order’ (apart from getting an early start on the Prelude), it turned out (without having drawn up any ‘instrumentation scheme’ beforehand) that I composed for different combinations of the instruments (loosely speaking, on the model of, say, Pierrot lunaire and the Quatuor pour la fin du temps) number by number, so there is over the course of the service a built-in timbral variety.

№ 1 :: Prelude (clarinet in A, string quartet, brass quintet, organ)
Written as a kind of gradual crescendo, introducing the instrumental compliment choir by choir, so to speak. It begins with organ solo, then the brass join. In a generally minimalist vein, it begins with simple ostinato, the two hands in a kind of canon whose rhythmic patterns are a counterpoint to the metrical framework of 3/2. There’ll be a key change, and a modification of the canonic imitation, so that there is registral and character variety as the piece slowly unfolds. First the string quartet, and later the clarinet, are introduced very simply, a chord (or in the case of the clarinet, a sustained tone) which adds a layer to a brief moment of the organ-VS.-brass game. Then, per a suggestion from Brett, there is a passage of energetic organ doodling which then yields to a jaunty clarinet quintet. This yields in turn to a long-breathed brass chorale, a series of transpositions all of the same pentad (a ‘chord progression’ which is in fact borrowed from one of the earlier brass-&-organ passages). At length there is a (transposed and re-scored) return to earlier material which, I think, manages to feel like a new arrival. The number ends quietly and unassumingly.

№ 2 :: Seating of the Parents (clarinet in A, string quartet, organ)
Rather than thinking in terms of ceremonially finding the parents their seats, I wrote this as at once a sort of ‘extension’ of the Prelude (tempo and meter are the same; and the musical materials come in part straight from the Prelude), and yet as a stylistic variation, a playful scherzo perhaps reminiscent of Prokofiev’s toccata mode . . . in which, as well as in its instrumentation, it forms a ready contrast to –

№ 3 :: Introitus (brass quintet)
[Brett: The audience should know something is beginning] Thus, some big, austere brass, which will sound all the more striking as they’ve sat silent for the past two minutes. Since there are more-nearly-traditional fanfarish elements in Nos. 4 & 5, I went Stark Modern with this. Actually, one of those sketches I drew up for the Prelude, but which didn’t make it in, was a patch of bustling Hindemithian two-part counterpoint; I drew this out rhythmically, and (since registrally, it was more a string-or-clarinet thing, originally) split each line between a pair of instruments. Musically (not thematically) I was thinking on the lines of some trumpet sennets in Shostakovich’s music for the Kozintsev King Lear. At all events, I think it reasonably effective as an attention-getter.

№ 4 :: Processional: The Bridal Party (string quartet, brass quintet, organ)
A brief fanfare figure, then directly into straightforward (thought, I believe, not banal) procession music. Eight years ago, I had fun drawing up an original harmonization for the hymn-tune Danby; this mini-project briefly became almost an idée-fixe of mine, different instrumentations, expanding the solo voice part to a four-part choir arrangement, &c. Anyway, in poking through old Finale files, I found a different accompaniment I drew up, some forgotten time ago, without making finalized use of it in anything, then; and, in fact, it was perfectly suited to this new purpose, with the tune adapted to duple meter.

№ 5 :: Processional: Entrance of the Bride (clarinet in B-flat, string quartet, brass quintet, organ)
This is set off from the Bridal Party Processional by a brief, wispy clarinet solo introduction which echoes one of the melodic notions in № 2 (which, actually, is something of a touching idea, perhaps). Fanfarish bits here are more elaborate than in № 4; I composed the processional melody proper, a double-period with phrases of six, five, five and five measures, respectively. As with № 4, I vary the scoring as the tune returns.

№ 6a :: Psalm
№ 6b :: Alleluia

(Both in unison and unaccompanied.)
Apart from the Prelude, which was a work-in-progress for rather a while, this is the first music composed for the wedding. I’d actually had the basic idea for the Alleluia at about the time when Brett first ‘taped out’ the service for me; not all that surprising, perhaps, since I have had occasion to set the text Alleluia several times in the past, and I like to do something new with it each time. For the Psalm, I composed a Psalm-tone (probably on the bus ride in to Boston one morning), and then merged text and music. It is a flexible method of traditional sacred text-setting which I find very apt; it never stales for me, never deteriorates into mere ‘formula’.

№ 7 :: Unity Candle (clarinet in B-flat, string quartet, brass quintet)
Probably for no more cosmic reason than that it followed the Psalm and Alleluia on the page of the outline of the Service from which I was working, this was the second number completed. I wonder if I omitted the organ from the scoring simply because I was thinking ‘no organ’ from the unaccompanied service-music of № 6; as it turned out, though, I think that reserving the organ’s return for the Recessional works very nicely. Here, I just turned my hand to trying to write a sweetly gracious melody and bass-line; and when I had these shaped to my liking, adding an inner voice or two, one of them at times gently florid. The writing is thus quite simple, with lots of doublings; and the contrasting middle section began as a clarinet-&-trumpets trio, for the simple reason that timbrally I had decided to leave them out from the A section.

[ When I was playing back the music (via MIDI, of course) to my wife and mom-in-law, they liked everything, to my great pleasure; it was the Entrance of the Bride and the Unity Candle which they especially liked, though. What above all was gratifying, was to hear my wife say, “Too bad we couldn’t have you write music for our wedding” . . . because part of my preparing to write the several numbers of this piece, was reflecting on the hypothetical question, If this were my wedding, what music would I write, to touch my bride at this uniquely solemn moment? ]

№ 8 :: Recessional (clarinet in B-flat, string quartet, brass quintet, organ)
Here I wanted cheerful and lively music, with sprightly antiphonal call-&-answer of phrases, and with some fluidity of phrase-length as part of the rhythmic liveliness of the piece.

Actually, there does remain one bit of service-music yet to write, a strophic hymn-setting. The groom is necessarily busy with many tasks preparing for the Big Day, but sometime soon he is to advise me of the text.

[28 May 2008]

Notwithstanding all the other arrangements and concerns with which the groom was perforce occupied, he arranged for a friend to record the music: [ link ]

No comments: