Sextet for Woodwind Quintet and Harp (2000)

MIDIs of this are finally up! A really good sound card, or a really good imagination, are required for you to listen to this and get a good feel for the piece. My group did the World Premiere of it on Thursday, 19 April 2001, at Martin University in Indianapolis. It's a long piece, about 45 minutes.

If your group would like to play this piece, e-mail me, and we'll work something out. It requires a top-level group, but I'd be excited to get it out there and performed more. Thanks!

Program Notes

(Click on the title of each section to get the MIDI file)

I - Music Box Introduction
This short opening movement introduces the main musical element which recurs throughout the entire piece - the upward skip of a fifth. Short statements by the entire group surround the Music Box theme (played by the harp alone), which will be heard again in the final movement. The transition to the next movement proceeds without pause.

II - Theme and Variations
Unlike the traditional format, these Variations bear little melodic relationship to the Theme. What has been maintained throughout the variations is the use of the interval of a fifth, along with a similar musical structure: The variations generally consist of a short introduction (except vars. 4, 6 and 10), two statements of melody, a phrase which is tone-centered on the fourth of the scale, and a "tag" closure phrase.

A cantabile melody for the oboe, over a flowing harp accompaniment, reminiscent of a Scottish folk tune.

Var 1 - March
The flute changes to piccolo for this variation, characterized by a skippy melody and tight harmonies against a banjo-like background.

Var 2 - Perpetuum Mobile
The horn has the stately melody, while the other instruments intermingle their sixteenth-note runs. This variation is somewhat shorter than the others structurally, due to the complexity of the accompaniment.

Var 3 - Ostinato
A very definitive minor-key melody, over a background of driving insistence from the low instruments.

Var 4 - Discord
Though it sounds completely atonal, the random staccato accompaniment to the harp's chords is centered squarely in C major. The harmonic trick here is that the fifth of the scale, G, has been augmented to G#. This is not a traditional scale for music of any modal structure, and it creates most of the feeling of dissonance.

Var 5 - Jig
The rhythm for this variation seems unable to decide whether it should be felt in 3/4 or 6/8 time, and the middle "up a fourth" section is just as schizophrenic in its harmonies. This short variation ends with a precursor of the fourth movement.

Var 6 - Orientale
The piccolo, bassoon and clarinet are featured in a slow pentatonic melody.

Var 7 - Mechanical Waltz
As its name implies, this waltz in 3/8 time brings to mind either a man with a limp, an old hand-cranked organ, or maybe both.

Var 8 - Lamentoso
A wonderful harp technique, bisbigliando, gives an ethereal backdrop to the plaintive bassoon. To help with the low notes, the clarinetist takes up the contralto.

Var 9 - Punctuation
By far the most difficult variation in performance, at no time do any two instruments play simultaneously, nor does any player get more than one consecutive note. Nevertheless, a definite melodic and harmonic structure emerge from the disjunction. This variation has the shortest introduction of all (fittingly, one note), and the harp gets the last word.

Var 10 - Chorale
As the harp's penance for its intrusion in the previous variation, it sits out while the quintet plays a standard five-part chorale to end the movement.

III - Soliloquy
Four of the players leave the stage, while the harp re-establishes itself with an opening flourish and an introduction to the movement with a chorale of its own. Then, the horn has its say in a prolonged, emotional oration covering the instrument's entire range of pitch and dynamics. Modeled on actual human speech patterns, rhythm takes second place to content in this impassioned monologue.

IV - Scherzo (Note: The MIDI leaves out the repeat of the A section)
In classical Scherzo-Trio form (with D.C. and Coda), this movement has been described as a Mariachi Band which gives way in the Trio to an operatic aria. The trio section harkens back to the Theme of the second movement, where the oboe is the star, singing over an undulating harp accompaniment. This movement's main incessant rhythmic figure inverts the fifth-interval into a downward skip of a fourth.

V - Interlude and Finale
After a dark and subdued interlude, which might remind one of a quiet Spanish evening, the ensemble breaks into a tarantella-like romp. A middle section combines the Music Box theme of the first movement with ever-present triplet figures, and a restatement of the main theme builds to the piece's final fortissimo declaration of the fifth-interval motive. The piece ends suddenly, but decisively.

©2001 Dan McGlaun