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Six Metamorphoses after Ovid. Op. 49.

For Oboe Solo by Benjamin Britten


Music & Letters, Vol. 33, No. 4 (Oct., 1952), pp. 365-366
Published by: Oxford University Press
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REVIEWS OF MUSIC
SymphonyNo. I. For full orchestra. By Malcolm Arnold. Miniature
Score. (Lengnick. 8s. 6d.)
Arnold's symphony in three movements (Allegro, Andantino and
Vivace con fuoco) is a pleasant and evocative mixture of urgency, charm
and knitting. The tunes and harmonies are basically diatonic, and a
sense of stability is driven home by the severely economical use of material.
There is a neatness of phrase and form that compares well with that of
Lennox Berkeley, while perky, not to say jazzy, cross-rhythms, syncopa-
tions, and a large amount of wide-open-space two-part clashing counter-
point in doubled octaves displays an unpredictable mischief, as of a
tiger-cub, playful but rather rough. The first movement in D minor is
concerned with the contrasting of two themes, the one rhetorical, menac-
ing and linear, the other (poco meno mosso) a curious antiphonal affair,
where a phrase of unaccompanied tune alternates with an engaging
chord-sequence, all interspersed with mysterious distant side-drum beats.
An exciting development, in which are heard, amongst other things,
horn glissandi and timpani playing "ffpossible ", leads to an abbreviated
recapitulation, where tubular bells and tamtam join the fray. Mean-
while, the brass is kept busy. In addition to the instruments already
mentioned, the kitchen requires bass-drum, cymbals, glockenspiel and
xylophone. The second movement in C major is an elegant sort of
neo-classical minuet, in rather measured steps, relying for interest more
on devices of scoring and canonic contrivances than on melodic or
harmonic profundity. Anxiety and mystery have given way to a debonair
orchestrated pause before the final movement. The third and last
movement starts in an impetuous 6/8 tempo, almost as if it were a scherzo.
Here again the theme (marked " sempre staccatissimo ") is ruled with
a rod of iron, allowed no irresponsible exuberance, and made to get on
with the matter in hand. Of course it gets rather irritated at its re-
striction, and after serving its master with a wry sneer by tying itself up
in one or two pointless knots, tries to escape in a series of disguises,
fugued, inverted and fugued again, then alla marcia, andfinally, after a
sudden deathly silence, in an apotheosis (maestoso) over a basso ostinato;
and the movement ends in a blaze of D major.

Six Metamorphosesafter Ovid. Op. 49. For Oboe Solo. By Benjamin


Britten. (Boosey & Hawkes. 3s.)
To write music for a solo instrument is, at the best of times, an awe-
inspiring task, and to play it may well be equally uncomfortable. Britten
has brought it off with characteristic aplomb, avoiding anything like an
extended melody or direct repetition of a section, but uttering happy
fragments of themes in ever-changing shapes, so that each piece is like
a pastoral improvisatidn, where the shepherd's pipe can never remember
the original starting-point of a tune and loses itself in a fresh excursion of
365

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366 MUSIC AND LETTERS

exquisite musical verbiage. At the same time, though the first piece
' Pan' is tentative and indefinite, the subsequent five, 'Phaeton ',
' Niobe 'Bacchus ', ' Narcissus' and ' Arethusa ', have very definite
',
tempi and are by no means excessively rambling. 'Phaeton' and
' Narcissus ' contain delicious descriptive music-whirring triplet arpeg-
gios illustrate the sun's chariot, and gentle contrasted flutters portray a
pretty face prettily reflected in a pool. ' Niobe ' is a noble lamentation.
It is something of a tour-de-force to have written this work, but doubly
so to play it.

Concertofor Clarinetand string orchestra,with harp and piano. By Aaron


Copland. Full Score. (Boosey & Hawkes.)
This single-movement work, lasting seventeen minutes, starts de-
ceptively enough with a slow ruminating waltz accompanied in broken
diatonic tenths-the total effect somewhat reminiscent of Satie's
Gymnopedies'. A cadenza follows which at first sight appears
inconsequent and erratic; but the threads are gathered up later. And
then the real business starts-the joke is on us, and we wake from our
reverie to snatches of ragtime crude and piquant, and to sections of
;subtlersyncopation, gathering speed and intensity in a long climax, till
the tempo broadens and a semi-glissando spells finis. All in all, it is an
exciting hotchpotch of unpretentious tomfoolery, reverently dedicated
to Benny Goodman.

RhythmStudyNo. I, for player piano. By Conlon Nancarrow. Published


in ' New Music ', October 195I.
A rather unappetizing piece of mechanical jargon, which even two
players (if they wanted to) could not render as a piano duet, owing to its
material aridity and rhythmic complexity. There is no harmonic or
melodic interest worth speaking of, though there is a plethora of chord-
sequences and note sequences, and innumerable scrunches, so that I can
well understand why it takes a dumb animal like the pianola to put up
with such an imposition. As a rhythmic study, I have no doubt, it puts
a severe test on every cogwheel concerned, but will scarcely do more than
tickle the ears of a human listener, passing higgledy-piggledy in at one
and out at the other, on account of its excessive complication. There is
a limit to the number of eggs that can be put into one basket. Mr.
Nancarrow has just piled everything in, including Pelion and Ossa.
But to surprise your friends after the coffee, it might be ideal.
P. A. T.

The Pilgrim's Progress. By R. Vaughan Williams. (O.U.P. Vocal


Score, 45s.)
For a discussion of the work readers are referred to Herbert Murrill's
article in the issue for October, I95I. Let us hope that the publication
of the vocal score (which includes a German adaptation by R. Miller-
Hartmann with additions by Genia Hornstein) is a prelude to many
more performances.

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