82. Historical Parody or Naivety – Thoughts on My Trombone Concertino, Op. 19b
On Monday I completed my Concertino, Op. 19b for trombone and electronics. In some ways, it is a throwback to my earliest compositions—the many electronic poems I had written from 2008 to 2011—but in other ways my latest piece points in wholly new directions that I hope to explore more in future works. In this post, my plan is to share some initial thoughts on my new Trombone Concertino while my compositional processes are still fresh in my mind.
The Trombone Concertino was created in several sittings between spring and fall 2016; this makes it the first new composition I have completed since arriving in Louisville this August. The First Movement is an adaptation of the earlier Study for trombone and player piano composed in December 2013 and October 2014, and included as part of my Studies for Player Piano in Concert, Op. 19. The Second and Third Movements were newly written to complement the First Movement which was also given electronic accompaniment to match the two new movements. As you can read in MusicCentral No. 71, I was interested in creating a new work for my friend Matt Petty, a composer and trombonist, to perform which could also begin to address the concepts of co-creation between composer and performer, and the integration of electronics with instrumental music. Work began on the new movements in March; these and the adaption of the First were completed earlier this week.
The First Movement Sonata. Andante – Moderato parodies elements I perceive as tacky in the four pre-Classical era trombone concerti written by Leopold Mozart, Michael Haydn, Georg Christoph Wagenseil, and Johann Georg Albrechtsberger. This is not accomplished through actual quotations from these composers; rather, I have abstracted and parodied certain attributes I find in these concerti and other works from their era. These allusions occur most prominently in the second theme, and specifically include the mock-heroic melody with its comically misplaced bottom note; the triadic arpeggios found in both lines; the block-chord triads of the piano line; the repeated octave leaps of the piano’s bass line; and also that things often occur in sets of three. This last feature is a direct parody of music by Johann Stamitz, a respected composer of the Mannheim School whose music is full of instances where one note is repeated three times in a row. The very idea that this movement would occur in a faulty sonata-allegro form where the recapitulation repeats not the material of the first theme as was the common practice but the music of the second theme also parodies the music of the Classical era where sonata-allegro form is so prevalent and so perfectly satisfied.
The dissonant material that precedes the diatonic second theme further complicates things. Neither the dissonant first theme nor the diatonic second theme is totally desirable. And, while the opposition between the two themes is readily apparent, their dependence on each other for their existence is also perceptible in that the diatonic melody of the second theme (in opposition to history) is derived from the tone row of the first theme. That row (E-D-C#-F-G-F#-B-C-A-D#-A#-G#) is what I call an organic prime row, one which is not permutated in advance via a serial matrix, but which is instead treated thematically as in tonal music. Furthermore, this movement was the first instance (in December 2013) where I grew the tone row gradually as the music itself freely unfolds rather than developing the row beforehand. The two themes, chromatic and tonal, are placed into competition in the development section where the electronic sounds are harshest. It is also interesting, if coincidental, that the dissonant, crashing chords which resolve the debate occur in the piano sample—associated with the second theme—rather than the electronically-altered sample that goes with the first theme.
The Second Movement Cadenza. Andante is modeled after a similar movement in the Third Brandenburg Concerto by Johann Sebastian Bach where a solo improvisation on harpsichord is meant to occur over a single cadence in the accompanying strings. Although I have notated my own cadenza, I also state in the score, “The soloist may either play the written trombone part as is, give a free interpretation of the written part, or play an original improvisation over the chords ii6 and III in E major.” This is only the second time I have allowed for improvisation in one of my compositions, although I leave the degree of improvisation up to the performer himself and he can even choose not to improvise at all. In regards to my notated cadenza, I should also add that I take the tone row and derived melody from the First Movement and reflect on these ideas—an example I hope performers who choose to improvise would follow, although nothing requires them to do so. The Second Movement, therefore, becomes an abstract reflection on the First where the formerly irreconcilable divide between Classical and Modern music no longer proves quite as problematic.
In the Third Movement Rondo. Allegretto, history is overturned and ignored as the Classical and Modern elements are subsumed into a naïve sort of music. Some incongruity remains albeit: whereas the repeated A section with its simple piano accompaniment is crudely diatonic, the intervening B and C sections possess more motivic and rhythmic diversity while also gaining an electronic accompaniment. Nonetheless, in both the B and C sections, the otherwise adventurous trombone develops each of his solos from a universally-known song, recovered from childhood (you will need to figure out which songs yourself though). I might also mention that, whereas sonata form was consciously undermined in the First Movement, the rondo structure of this movement simply sounds broken considering the mostly static melody played four times per A section by the trombone.
Ultimately this final movement seems to suggest that if we ignore the stylistic incongruities we are faced with at present—the Classical and the Modern, the past and the recent past—we really can overcome and dismiss them. In regards to my own compositional track, I have also wondered if this work is perhaps the last possible piece of referential music: although the Trombone Concertino is remarkably fresh overall, the referential principle which has guided my compositions for four years now has perhaps grown stale as I now envision other musical directions which I must explore. In its openness to improvisation and its combination of acoustic and electronic resources, the Concertino itself has already begun to explore several of these new directions. I have shared this new piece with Matt, and currently his plan is to premiere it at January’s Nachtmusik.
About Jackson. Jackson Harmeyer is a music scholar, composer, and advocate of music. Jackson graduated summa cum laude from the Louisiana Scholars’ College located in Natchitoches, Louisiana in May 2013 after completing his undergraduate thesis “Learning from the Past: The Influence of Johann Sebastian Bach upon the Soviet Composers.” As series director of the successful Abendmusik Alexandria chamber music series from May 2014 to April 2016, Jackson played a vital role in the renewal of interest in chamber music across Central Louisiana. This interest has encouraged the creation of the annual Sugarmill Music Festival and the new series Nachtmusik von BrainSurge, both of which Jackson remains active in as concert annotator and creative consultant. He also blogs at MusicCentral where he shares concert experiences, gives listening recommendations, posts interviews with contemporary composers, and offers insights into his own compositions. As a composer, he has worked to integrate a modern vocabulary into established classical forms in ways that are not only innovative but also engaging to the general listener. In fall 2016, Jackson began graduate studies in musicology at the University of Louisville where he also sings with the University Chorus and participates in the School of Music Composition Seminar. Learn more about Jackson Harmeyer, his scholarship, and his compositions at www.JacksonHarmeyer.com.
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