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Le poème inattendu

for orchestra

Year:  1989 Instrumentation:  4344; 4331; timp., 3 perc.; harp; strings (18,16,12,10,8) | (Perc: small tri., cymbal, bell tree, guiro, ratchet, vibraslap, 2 tam-tams, snare drum, small tom-tom, tenor drum, 2 bass drums, glock., xylo., vib., mar., timp.)

Year:  1989
Instrumentation  4344; 4331; timp., 3 perc.;...

Films, Audio & Samples

Sample Score

Sample: Page 22 and 23

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In writing a work for large orchestra, the main problem that presented itself was such: that for all the twentieth century techniques that deal with material (i.e. structure or pitch classes), for the most part we are stuck with the same timbres. Admittedly, composers such as Béla Bartók, György Ligeti, and George Crumb have made much progress in the use of instruments and instrumentation. However, apart from some accepted new ways of employing instruments, a romantic size orchestra in the twentieth century still sounds, to my ears, like a romantic size orchestra.

I felt that trying to change this fact was a bit like trying to alter the universe, so instead of attempting to invent a “new” sound, I aimed to highlight the similarity of acoustic sounds between twentieth century and late romantic material.

The work is an ABA1 structure, the first section being, to my knowledge, an invention of my own: namely, “Pan tonal Phase Music.” This section uses antiphonal orchestral choirs an alternating pulses (similarly employed in Steve Reich’s The Desert Music) but with non-centered sound instead of diatonicism. After a climax, this is contrasted by an example of Ligeti’s micropolyphony (as employed in his Atmosphères) and then is contrasted by a pastiche of Gustav Mahler (the B section). Mahler is then parodied through interruptions, truncation, excessive silences and exaggerated increases in tempo.

The pastiche fades into a quotation from Mahler’s 5th symphony, Brahms’ 4th symphony, Beethoven’s 7th, Mozart’s 39th, and Haydn’s 104th, one after the other, similar to the splicing effect in analog tape music (and further highlighting the similarity in orchestral timbre over the centuries).

This is not the first occurrence of this material. The harmonies that are employed against the pulsating string figures in the A section are mostly derived from the Mahler 5th symphony extract, although there are also occurrences derived from the quotations as well. All the quoted material in the A section is unrecognisable. However, the Mahler 5th symphony quotation becomes a more obvious appendage to the orchestral fabric towards the end of the B section.

Following this, the work resumes with the micropholyphony of the A section and then there is a retrograde of the opening material of the A section. As a coda, the Mahler quotation again resurfaces and then disappears in a dissonant cacophony.

Matthew Davidson

Contents note

One movement