In this post we are going to continue the examination, begun in my previous post, of some of the orchestration techniques used by Frederick Delius in his work for orchestra entitled In A Summer Garden. This work from 1908 contains examples of the expansion of these techniques made available by the confluence of the trends begun in the nineteenth century of the expansion of the orchestra, the stylistic changes in composition and musical nationalism. Toss in some of the ideals of the Impressionists and you pave the way for many of these British composers beginning around the turn of the century.
Before getting started, though, I wanted to listen to one small example from the first movement (De l’aube à midi sur la mer) of Debussy’s La Mer. There are a great many examples of these alternating chordal background figures in the literature. We’ve listened to quite a few works that have similar figures. Two weeks ago we listened to the second movement of Debussy’s Ibéria entitled Les parfums de la nuit. (See Example 26.2 in my post from May 20, 2014.)
Example 28.1. Claude Debussy: La Mer (Measures 31-45)
Paul Paray, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Mercury Living Presence
One of the effects provided by such figures is that of movement. In this example specifically it’s of the waves in the ocean. Note how Debussy creates the sound. At first, the range of tones is constrained within a ninth. Half of the violas have eighth note A-flats pizzicato on the bottom. He builds over this bass with the other half of the viola section and the second violins (also divisi) such that they are alternating between “open” chords of A-flat, E-flat and B-flat on the first third and fifth of the sixteenth sextuplets and the D-flat chords on the second, fourth and sixth sixteenths. That may be overdoing the breaking down a little too much, but basically there is a tremolo effect with these notes, effectively producing a pentatonic scale. After one measure he brings in the heavier (i.e, lower) cavalry – or maybe it is sea’s currents with waves entering the scene from different directions. It’s a little bit of magic to have the cellos in unison with their descending lines only to split with one rising and the other falling. And just to confirm the fact that with waves there is little stability, the accented notes of these parts are not on the conventional downbeats. For example, the lowest tone, the D-flat, is played on the second sixteenth note of the group.
To emphasize the irregular placement of the beats, Debussy doubles this A-flat – D-flat descending fifth of the second half of the cello section in the harp 1 part. It’s a practical use of the instrument and assists in keeping the true nature of the bar lines blurred to all but the most careful listener. To see how important this continuation is to Debussy, note how even some eleven or twelve bars later when the English horn and first part of the cello section have the melody together (in measure 43) Debussy maintains the first harp doubling the second half of the cellos on the descending fifths pattern.
There are a few other items that deserve notice. When Debussy has the flutes play the beautiful and effective open fifth (wave-like) pattern in measure 33, it’s doubled an octave lower in the clarinets. In the succeeding measure the flutes drop out and the pattern continues in the clarinets as the second harp has the chords with them, dropping through several octaves. After the horns have their bold melodic statement in octaves in the next six measures, the oboes, clarinets and bassoons have the open fifth melody, but this time the clarinets are doubling the oboes at the unison while the bassoons have the lower octave.
Towards the end of the measure first one flute enters in the highest part of its range to emphasize the top of the wave. It then descends and as the other woodwinds are removed, the second flute enters with the harmony at the fifth below. Again the harp has the same pattern for the measure. This time, though, for this wave with a new timbre the first violins enter in two groups with tremolos, adding a scintillating and shimmery effect to this wave. (Perhaps it is the way the sun reflecting off one of the waves.) Two measures later the solo bassoon has the pattern that had been harmonized at the fifth. This time it is not. However, the first violins sustain a high octave double of B-flats, the same note that the flute played right after it entered two bars earlier. This is probably not a coincidence. Seeing how careful Debussy was with his scoring, I doubt anything is by chance.
It’s useful to review a seemingly straightforward passage like this one. The master is at work providing an impression of the sea’s waves. The movement of the sea is constantly changing. Debussy is reproducing this in a musically novel and effective manner. There’s a lot to be learned by its study.
Frederick Delius presents a garden in the summertime. To produce this impression, as we saw in the previous post, he has created some germinal thematic material. In this example from early in the work we see how he dissects it. Look at the violin entrance in measure 57 starting on the last of the four sixteenth notes on the first beat. If one substitutes three staccato sixteenth notes, perhaps a B-flat followed by two Gs, there’d be nothing unfamiliar about the passage. But we see that Delius has stripped off those first three sixteenth notes and the violins enter on the final one followed by the descending sixth from A to C-sharp. This is another pattern on which the composer is building. In fact, we had a descending sixth in the melody of the flute in the second measure of the piece.
In example 28.2 notice how Delius is playing with this chromatic passage of these first two measures, how he has the winds (including a trumpet doubling the English horn) and the harp supply the chromatic seventh chords under the flute. What follows in the next measure is a similarly chromatic series of chords in the strings.
Example 28.2. Frederick Delius: In A Summer Garden (Measures 56-67)
Charles Mackerras, Welsh National Opera Ochestra, EMI
One side note: Not being a harpist, I would still assume that there is at least a little bit of pedaling going on in those few beats to make the chromatic chords sounds properly. If this passage were to be performed quickly it could be difficult for the harpist. It’s important to be aware of what is playable depending on tempo.
Two measures after the violins have the A to C-sharp descending sixth, the flute tosses off the same descending interval. To mix things up (i.e, make them interesting to the ear) the composer has the flute land on the same chord, but this time a clarinet is tasked with the sixteenth note turn on the C-sharp. In this passage we are listening to very bare writing with nothing but the flute, English horn, clarinets, and horn playing. In some ways it’s the way that composers of Beethoven’s day also wrote for solo winds. Some passages that come to mind are in the slow opening of the Egmont Overture.
Delius appears to want to vacillate between F major and the whole tone harmonies in these passages. It’s noteworthy to see the use of the muted horns in measure 63 doubling the strings at the unison. Remember that a trill tends to make the ear lose focus on the center of the sound. So, to ensure that the sound is solidly heard, but with a unique timbre, Delius enlists the muted horns to sustain the chord played by the strings. It’s a wise choice that also adds color to the palate.
In fact, in the next measure, the one just after the oboe run that begins on C-sharp, the winds enter on the downbeat with an F chord, but it’s stuffed with an added sixth. To make sure that we are aware of the tonal center, Delius does not use the harp here, instead he uses the timpani on the fifth, F – C. Interesting use of the percussion.
The composer lays out some more summertime trills in the strings, but on the downbeat of the measure he opts to sustain the notes without a trill. This assures us that we know the chord because he chooses not to use any other orchestra members to join the strings. When the English horn hits the downbeat of the next measure (67) we have a full string section supplying the B-flat ninth chord. It’s nice writing to not only have the chords vacillate, but to also have the orchestration do the same thing, sometimes with strings, other times winds.
Tossing Around Ideas
In Example 28.3 we can hear the composer continuing the figure of the last sixteenth note of a beat descending down a sixth to a somewhat solid chord. It’s evident in both measure 69 and measure 71. He chooses to juxtapose the sustained string chords on the alternating measures with this figure. Note that the figure is accented by harp chords. Again we are presented with a “sort of” normal chord in the strings (Dm7) and then the winds and harp have what to tonal ears is a chord (B9 maybe) in search of a resolution.
The flutes in these four measures have notes at the bottom of their range, but with the scant amount of much other activity in the measures, the flutes can be heard clearly. Nevertheless, note that the flutes are notated piano whereas the bass clarinet, bassoons and horns are marked pianissimo. It never hurts to indicate what you want. How else would a conductor know your wishes?
In the past we have observed the bass clarinet being used as an additional bassoon and also an addition horn. Delius chooses the instrument here as the top line to the three bassoons on the three quarter note chords in measure 73 and it is similarly used as the tonal center changes somewhat surprisingly in measure 75.
Example 28.3. Fredrick Delius: In A Summer Garden (Measures 68-80)
Thomas Beecham, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, EMI
Delius turns again to the harp for descending chords in measures 76 through the beginning of 78, used to accent the chord played by the upper winds. In a different context it might almost sound like a passage from Debussy. The latter, however, would probably have some string business happening, like a tremolo or a sustained harmonic in the stratosphere. Playing with tonality here, Delius has the top of the orchestra (flute and top of the harp) playing a two octave A-flat arpeggio even though we never hear an A-flat chord.
In fact, as soon as we get to the end of that arpeggio we do get tremolos in the violas. It’s a welcome change to the rather block-like writing, but one new function here is the cello section playing a snippet of the alternative presented by Delius earlier of a triplet instead of the four sixteenth note pattern. It functions to open up the writing, which has been mostly focused on the higher ranges. Note too that throughout this section, the harp is quite independent from the strings, almost acting in an antiphonal pattern to the string parts.
This next example opens with movement in both directions: winds and strings moving in different ways. Noteworthy is the independence of the string section with the first violins moving up in a scalar fashion and the rest descending. The winds and harp return for the next few measures with the similar pattern discussed above. Delius throws a curve, possibly disturbing the audience’s reverie on the third beat of measure 88 by employing the two upper double reed instruments and the muted trumpets doubling the sustained note of the trills in the violins and violas. The surprise is mainly in the timbre of the sforzando when trumpets are muted. This reedy sound is naturally found in both the oboe and the English horn.
Although the melodic beauty of the lines here, to my ear at least, cannot compare to those of Debussy, the result it that these motifs and the delicacy of the writing provide the work with an image of exactly what Delius called it. It is hard not to imagine a butterfly meandering or even a couple of squirrels playing in a garden on a summer afternoon.
Example 28.4. Fredrick Delius: In A Summer Garden (Measures 85-101)
Charles Mackerras, Welsh National Opera Orchestra, EMI
One last element in this passage that completes its unity is the first oboe doubled with the harp on the chords beginning in measure 97. Of course, the first flute is the most important element here, but all the winds that are playing dotted half-notes are all topped by the first oboe. This keeps a cohesive reedy sound that was introduced a few measures back when the oboe, English horn and muted trumpets had their dramatic entrances. Naturally, it’s a subtle nuance, but by giving the oboe the top of the chords the sound is much different than if the flutes or clarinets had played the highest note.
Versatile Bass Clarinet
Example 28.5. Fredrick Delius: In A Summer Garden (Measures 111-115)
Thomas Beecham, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, EMI
This is a very brief example that I think is important, because of its use again of the bass clarinet to be a voice of a different section of the orchestra. Earlier it was the top voice of the three bassoons. Here it becomes a middle voice to three horns. Except for the short figures in the other woodwinds (bird calls perhaps), the entire passage is just three horns and the bass clarinet in close harmony playing sustained chords. It is a small detail, but if it were possible to do a side by side comparison of the same passage played on four horns versus bass clarinet and three horns, I think anyone would hear the subtle difference in timbre. Given that this passage is all the transition Delius gives us in the few measures before changes in theme, motifs, key, time signature, and melody, this bit of orchestration is useful to consider for your own compositions.
For the middle section of the work, Delius gives us a deceptively simple melody in the violas supported with some new harmonies and using novel orchestration techniques too.
Because of the way the strings ease into the chord in measure 116, the first thing we notice is the flute entrance on its eighth note figures. What is less evident from listening only and not looking at the score is the way Delius shifts the eight note figures around the upper winds, mostly with each instrument entering and leaving the eighth note pattern about an eight note apart. The overall effect is a smooth, cascade of sound from the apex of the pattern on the downbeat on one and two of each measure (in 6/4 in a slow two). This sound, like a summer afternoon in a garden, is almost the same but constantly shifting in timbre among the flutes, oboes and clarinets. It makes for a fresh sound on almost every note.
Example 28.6. Fredrick Delius: In A Summer Garden (Measures 116-123)
Charles Mackerras, Welsh National Opera Orchestra, EMI
From a compositional point, it makes sense to have this long, sustained melody in the strings with the winds providing figures of movement. And, these figures are simply arpeggios of the chords being played by the cellos and contrabasses divided in four. This gives the sound several unique qualities. First, it diminishes the overall amount of sound produced by having each part played by roughly two performers. Second, Delius notates these strings parts as played piano. Lastly, it is relatively uncommon to have only lower strings below the violas with no “assistance” from bass clarinet, bassoon or horn, especially by them not doubling the contrabass’s low note (pedal E-flat throughout this passage). Of course, it is doubled by the cellos as is all four parts of the writing here.
And, one more item about the work’s rhythm is the way the composer throws in these measures in another rhythm, but one that has some natural feel to it. Yet, this passage is the just initial exposition of these new ideas, their development is coming up in the next example. For now, though, we are not ready to move to that.
Just as the strings sneak into their parts at the beginning of this passage, the horn in its solo turn is actually notated that way. This countermelody provides a timbre shift for these few measures, hinting at the opening of the piece when the flute introduces a similar descending triplet. Yet, the horn’s introduction on this line serves another purpose: In the next measure (no example here) the horn doubles the viola melody as the upper strings enter also divisi à 4 muted, triple piano, in two octaves sustaining the chords of the measures.
The Soundscape Thickens
A few measures after the example we just heard, the composer shifts the key. He moves the overall sound to one more familiar in terms of orchestral writing.
One thing immediate to the listener is the rise in the tonal center and all that it includes. For one, the flutes (all three of them) are now in their highest register in unison with the same four eighth note pattern on beats 1-2 and 4-5. The clarinets and oboe continue their pattern, overlapping with the flutes as noted. Again, the overall effect is to make the eighth note pattern one continual descending arpeggio. The string basses are now only divided in two and doubling themselves at the octave, with some of that lower sustained harmony taken up in the bassoons, fleshing out the sound and providing a more solid root for these chords.
Example 28.7. Fredrick Delius: In A Summer Garden (Measures 128-136)
Thomas Beecham, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, EMI
Delius decides to stay with the viola on the melody, but initially he shifts to a solo trumpet as the viola rises to treble clef for their unison melody. But after only two measures, he moves the line back to the horn. The reason for the temporary shift of the line to the trumpet is likely that the horn cannot play that high. Delius brings in this other brass instrument in a comfortable range to maintain the brass sound. And once the melody drops back down to a comfortable range for the horn in measure 130, he transfers the line back to the horn. The only instruments notated with a crescendo are these two solo voices. However, at this point Delius changes the ostinato in the woodwinds by mutating the last two eighth notes of each six note phrase to an eighth note triplet.
It’s a judicious piece of orchestration to see the restraint the composer uses to not simply throw more “stuff” at these measure until the climax in measure 134. One item I have not discussed is the rhythmic effect of the harp throughout this section. It very simply has half note chords on one and the same chord an octave higher on three. This same pattern is repeated on four and six also. It’s not quite a percussive effect, but it provides both a chordal accent to the woodwind figures as well as the stronger emphasis of this being a triple metered section.
As stated above the melody line moves back to the horn as the violas move, now with an eighth note at the end of each measure, for the ascending line to the two line C-sharp on the downbeat of measure 134.
Delius introduces some new orchestrational features at the climax. For one, the descending woodwind pattern first begun in measure 116 in the previous example is now played in unison by the flutes, oboes and clarinets. Plus, the pattern is now just a three-note arpeggio, repeated through each measure.
Another new feature is the English horn entering at the unison to join the melody line played by the first horn and violas. Also, the bass clarinet enters, doubling the second horn line in the harmony.
I would be remiss if I didn’t note that the melody here, the line that had been played by the first horn and the violas (now joined by English horn) is joined by a new entry: the violins in octaves now playing an additional melody. The two lines share the spotlight for these measures. Perhaps the most notable change here is the introduction of the harp arpeggio in the last two-thirds of measure 134. The emphasis here is on a D major chord center, sustained for these two measures. What follows is a shift to a D minor center (with some other notes thrown in) as the lines add to the chromaticism of the passage, with a diminuendo to a much softer volume.
As we saw in Debussy’s Ibéria a couple of weeks ago, Delius uses the harp arpeggio to suddenly make this building passage in a variable tonal focus to a sostenuto romantic one, even including the D major seventh chord at the beginning of the bar to a D dominant seventh at the end. (Some traditional techniques just work!) It’s important to put this in context, though. Traditional harmonic analysis is not the most appropriate tool to use for this kind of passage. These harmonies are mostly the result of the two melodies interacting to form coincident chords. (One might consider this similar to the works of the Renaissance choral composers. Palestrina, Byrd, Tallis, Gesualdo and Josquin (to name a few examples), too, wrote melodic lines that had coincident chords, but maybe this is a stretch.)
Please let me know if you have questions.
Now that summer is upon us (here in the northern hemisphere) I will not have the opportunity to post weekly. Posts will be irregular for the next few months. Weekly posts will recommence in the fall. Thanks for your understanding.