Brass Ensemble Program Notes

Fanfare to La Péri

PAUL DUKAS (1865-1935)

In Persian mythology, a peri is a magical creature like a fairy, who serves the God of Light. Paul Dukas, the composer of The Sorceror's Apprentice, chose the topic for his last major work, a ballet called La péri that he subtitled poème dansé, or "danced poem." The scenario tells of an oriental prince in search of the Flower of Immortality, which is guarded by the peri. When he finds her, he becomes obsessed by desire for her as well as for the flower, and thus is fated to perish. Sadly, La péri was the last work Dukas published, although he lived for more than 20 years beyond its premiere. The ballet has been revived occasionally, but has never become a repertory staple. 

 

The brilliant brass fanfare that precedes it, however, has become almost as familiar as Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man. Ironically, Dukas added it as an afterthought. He later stated that he sought to bring the exoticism of the tale to life through an orchestra he called "a kind of translucent, dazzling enamel." Both the glittering trumpet and horn calls and the rich harmonies of the fanfare's middle section amply fulfill his goal. Even separated from the ballet score, the fanfare lavishly delivers the promise of all good fairy tales: "once upon a time, in a land far away. . ."

Dukas scored the Fanfare for four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, and tuba. 

The Bells

WILLIAM BYRD (1542-1623)

​William Byrd (1542-1623) was known for his polyphonic choral and keyboard music, both sacred and secular.  The Bells features a simple rising two-note figure provides the background. Variations of a simple rhythmic figure of the bells, all keyed in B-flat, unfold as the music develops interest and momentum.

Hungarian March from The Damnation of Faust (arr. Haynor)

HECTOR BERLIOZ (1803-1869)

Hector Berlioz was a gifted and innovative orchestrator. He freed the brass from its role as mere accompaniment, making it the equal of the other orchestral sections. He experimented with new instruments, such as the bass clarinet and the valve trumpet. And he virtually put the English horn on the map as the quintessential solo instrument for conveying musical melancholy.  He was equally innovative in musical form and in stretching the limits of classical tonal harmony.

One of the foremost advocates of the idea of program music, he developed it as a natural outcome of his belief that music and literature were inextricably connected as expressions of the human imagination and affect. Every one of his compositions is programmatic, either as the setting of a text, or musical depiction of a story or literary concept.

Berlioz’s approach to Goethe’s Faust was liberal indeed, and the Germans fumed at the liberties he took with their beloved masterpiece. Maintaining that the legend on which the play is based was ancient and therefore in “public domain,” he did not hesitate to rearrange scenes as he saw fit and even add scenes that Goethe never dreamt of. In fact, none of the three most popular orchestral excerpts ever appeared in that form in the play.  Berlioz inserted the Hungarian March, also known as Rakoczy March, at the end of Part I of The Damnation of Faust – where he portrays Faust inspecting the troops on parade on the Hungarian plains – because he liked the melody. He actually had composed the movement in 1846 for a conducting gig in Budapest, where he was asked to compose a piece on a Hungarian national tune. Choosing the Rakoczy theme, which was used as a national air by the independence movement and was long forbidden in Hungary, he scored a smashing success.

The melody is named in honor of the aristocratic Rakoczy family, rulers of Transylvania between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, who fought for independence against Austria. It was composed in 1809 by John Bihari and is possibly based on an older tune. Liszt also used the tune in the Hungarian Rhapsody No.15.

Highlights from Pictures at an Exhibition (arr. Marlott)

MODEST MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)

In 1922 the French composer Maurice Ravel told the Russian conductor Serge Koussevitzky about this set of fascinating piano pieces. Koussevitzky, his enthusiasm fired, asked Ravel to orchestrate them. It was through this orchestration, and through Koussevitzky's frequent and brilliant performances, that Pictures at an Exhibition became an indispensable repertory item. Ravel was not the first to orchestrate the Pictures, and since his version many others have transcribed them, but I cannot imagine Ravel's version ever being displaced. It is a model of what we would ask for in technical brilliance, imaginative insight, and concern for the original composer.

The pictures are Victor Hartmann's. He was a close and important friend to Mussorgsky, and his death at only thirty‑nine in the summer of 1873 caused the composer profound and tearing grief. The critic Vladimir Stasov organized a posthumous exhibition of Hartmann's drawings, paintings, and architectural sketches in Saint Petersburg in the spring of 1874, and by June 22 Mussorgsky, having worked at high intensity and speed, completed his tribute to his friend. He imagined himself "roving through the exhibition, now leisurely, now briskly in order to come close to a picture that had attracted his attention, and at times sadly thinking of his departed friend."

That roving music which opens the suite he calls the Promenade. This walking music is heard a number of times throughout the work.  It is presented twice in this arrangement with a different feel each time.

Il vecchio castello (The Old Castle)—There was no item by this title in the exhibition, but it presumably refers to one of several architectural watercolors done on a trip of Hartmann's to Italy. Stasov tells us that the piece represents a medieval castle with a troubadour standing before it.

 

The Hut on Fowls' Legs—A clock in fourteenth‑century style, in the shape of a hut with cocks' heads and on chicken legs, done in metal. Mussorgsky associated this with the witch Baba Yaga, who flew about in a mortar in chase of her victims.

The Great Gate of Kiev—A design for a series of stone gates that were to have replaced the wooden city gates, "to commemorate the event of April 4, 1886." The "event" was the escape of Tsar Alexander II from assassination. The gates were never built, and Mussorgsky's majestic vision seems quite removed from Hartmann's plan for a structure decorated with tinted brick, with the imperial eagle on top and, to one side, a three‑story belfry with a cupola in the shape of a Slavic helmet.