Mike Cochran follows the common thread in the three works presented in our June 2017 concerts
Remember those days when we relaxed on a bench, watching our kids clambering over and under the equipment in the park playground? Well nowadays it’s the grand kids we observe, and sometimes take to the top of the slide for a whirlwind drop! Remember the days when your own four year-old commenced a musical career with a Suzuki violin? “Twinkle twinkle little star…” You can see your loved one even now with that quarter-sized violin under chin and hear the scratchy little melody. Twinkle is a transparent melody with a simple logical resolution… “how I wonder what you are“.
Music and melody are one and the same. Music is melody served by harmony and rhythm that expresses the varied emotions of our experience. A principal song, often merged with a second or third melodic notion, creates tension and release… tension and release… tension and finally resolution. At the playground when children climb around the jungle gym I’m reminded of a harmonic structure through which a melody can roam. Sometimes melody soars above… sometimes snaking through the harmonic midsection, even straying into the bass line at times. Music IS melody, painted with timbre and dynamics, served by tempo and harmony.
Adagio from Spartacus Suite 2, by Aram Khachaturian
The slave is crucified, the Roman Princess stands before him. An agony of melodic apprehension overwhelms this Adagio. The flute and oboe lead us to a tender, aching contemplation of melody in the strings. The Princess looks up at Spartacus pleading an end… falling to her knees in despair. Now the shadow of a Roman Legion looms in the distance, trudging a disciplined march. A triumphant anguished rendering of the main theme returns… Spartacus succumbs… the soft violin solo fades away.
Piano Concerto No. 2, Op. 18 in C minor by Sergei Rachmaninoff, played for us by Ya-Ping Huang
This whole piece is melody… melody on and on and on. The first movement is straight in with the principal theme, a grand triumphant statement in the strings. When the second theme arrives there’s a sense of yearning romance. The two themes interchange until a massive buildup brings the principal theme to a climax. Now the horn leads us to the counter-melody coda, presented by cellos and violas. The Adagio commences with a sublime clarinet solo that soon carries to the soloist. This simple rambling tune radiates throughout the orchestra. Quietly and delicately this splendiferous melody returns to the violins as the soloist becomes almost an accompanist. The Finale takes a little time to come to perhaps Rachmaninov’s most famous melody. This intense triumphant theme, presented at first by the oboe and violins and passed to the soloist, swells the heart, tingles the spine. One suspects that later on this grand theme will return ever more triumphantly. Now surprisingly, a more robust second melody appears in contrapuntal form. It’s thrown around the orchestra with the soloist melding into the drama (as far as Rachmaninov will allow a piano soloist to “ meld”). As the finale intensifies, the strings present the principal melody peacefully but the tranquility does not hold as the whole orchestra shows its full blown power. A magnificent rendering is complete.
Sea Cantata, by Nicholas Fairbank
From the outset there is no doubt we are ocean-bound. The opening powerful chords picture mighty waves crashing ashore. “O Sea” opens malevolently with rumblings from the cellos, basses and ominous choir entries. The first melodies we hear come from the “Silver Penny” , a lovely lilting maritime folk song, the lines equally satisfying for voice or strings and delightful resolutions to each melodic thought. Now we’re back to the ocean with “The Waves“, a canon with voices arguing pleasantly and orchestral voices exchanging contrapuntal effects. Listen for the fog horn down below. Is it time for an “Interlude”?
Let’s hear what Nick Fairbank has to say:
I tried to paint a musical picture of a calm sea, perhaps including something of the grandeur of the wide openness one experiences in the (doldrums-calm) ocean with no land in sight.
Next come nymphs and mermaids in “Sea Spirit”. Our nymphs are sopranos… our mermaids, altos. Rippling sixteenth notes from the piano, recalling gently swishing ocean waves, surround our vocalists. Oh watch out…! Here come the basses and tenors brandishing their tankards and bottles of rum, roaring out the hale and hearty hornpipe, “Who hath desired the sea!” It’s hard work for the lads… perhaps they really need their rum. The Finale, “When first I went to Sea”, is a lively sea shanty. The melody is in Aeolian Mode.
Finally the sinister feel of the opening movement returns, yet we hear the conclusion as wholesome and triumphant.