by Patrick J. Burns (Band: Grade 4+ — Soloist: Grade 5, 10:00)
The great British composer Malcolm Arnold (1921-2006) devoted a significant part of his career writing music for his friends and colleagues in the music world. He once said, “Music is the social act of communication among people, a gesture of friendship, the strongest there is.” It’s this very sentiment that has animated my long musical and personal relationship with the Ridgewood Concert Band, and which inspired the creation of this piece.
VIGNETTES was commissioned by – and is dedicated to – the RCB, Chris Wilhjelm, and euphonium soloist John Palatucci, and the consortium of ensembles which have contributed to the cost involved in the piece’s creation. In May 2016, after the successful premier performances nationwide of my RHAPSODY for Solo Clarinet and Band, John asked me, “So, when are you going to write something for euphonium?” Not long after that initial conversation I started to work.
VIGNETTES is exactly what the title implies: a series of short musical scenes in which the euphonium reveals certain elements of its character and personality, with the active assistance of the band. The listener may draw some comparisons to a concerto (though the piece really isn’t one) in that the two elements – soloist and band – remain of equal importance to each other throughout the duration of the work. There are six sections to the piece which connect to each other seamlessly; there are no pauses between each section, as in a traditional multi-movement work:
WAVES is based on undulating, sweeping figures which introduce the piece and develop briefly from there. GYMNASTIC (no “S” on the end!) is a movement introduced by the soloist’s first real technical challenge, with leaping triplet figures and angular melodies. A WORD IN PRIVATE – a very brief passage which may be likened to a short cadenza – is the only section of the piece in which the voice of the euphonium speaks alone. After a few intonations of a D#, which is sort of suspended in time, the soloist leads us into the LULLABY, which is the longest single section of the work in terms of playing time. The music here is at once tender and dramatic; bittersweet and peaceful. A BRIEF REFLECTION functions as a brief coda to the lullaby during which the band plays a series of chords around a melody played by the solo bassoon and solo horn, in unison. The soloist weaves in another line related to the others and they settle peacefully in F major – though not for long. The timpani is quick to interrupt the calm with a brash and brief solo which introduces the TOCCATA, the final movement of the work, in which everyone has some sort of technical display to show off. All the bravado and fireworks lead to a big (and hopefully satisfying) conclusion.
Patrick J. Burns