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Eurotänze, MIT 2013

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Published on Aug 2, 2013

This performance, by members of the Triton Brass Quintet and Atlantic Brass Quintet, took place in Killian Hall at MIT on 25 July 2013. They did a wonderful job, playing 4 of the 6 movements -- I. Prelude, III. Habanera, IV. Reel/Habanera reprise, and VI. Tarantella. Here are the program notes from the score:


This suite of stylized dances is modeled on dance suites of the Baroque era, though none of these specific dances were included in typical 17th- or 18th-century suites. The sequence of moods and tempi in Eurotänze is symmetrical: movements I and VI. are fast and wild, II. and V. slow and pensive, and movements III. and IV. are upbeat, performed continuously, and with a brief return of III. Much of the harmony is jazz-derived.

Obvious from the outset, as it is tossed among the trumpets, is a melodic cliché, the turn: a quick motion up from, back to, down from, and back to a starting note. Though historically used most often to ornament a simpler bit of melody, the turn is here elevated to the status of an essential and obsessive melodic element. It is abundantly present in all of the dances, with variations in tempo, rhythm, shape, and prominence-- analogous, perhaps, to the many regional variations of basic European ideas.

I. Prelude As with many dance suites of the Baroque, Eurotänze begins with a free-form prelude devoid of dance rhythms. It presents the majority of the melodic and harmonic ideas employed in the dances that follow. Colorful, fast and agitated, its level of excitement will not be equaled until the last dance of the suite.

II. Walzer The waltz evolved in Germany around the turn of the 19th century from the ländler, an Austrian peasant dance, and has remained perhaps the world's most popular dance form in triple meter. Soon after its invention the waltz was adapted for formal composition by many composers of stature. This one is slow and wistful, ending in question and melancholy. Extended trumpet duets recall the two short trumpet duets of the Prelude.

III. Habanera The habanera is a slow, sensuous dance in duple meter that grew to enormous popularity in the latter part of the 19th century. Developing in Spanish-controlled Cuba and named for its capital, Havana, it is the ancestor of a number of later dances, including the Argentinean tango. Many European composers composed habaneras, including the famous example from Bizet's Carmen (1875), mischievously quoted here. In the loudest passages the habanera rhythms morph easily into another New World melting pot style, a jazzy funk. The Habanera proceeds without pause to--

IV. Reel (& Habanera reprise) The reel has ancient roots, likely in Ireland; it remains popular across the British Isles and is a staple in Celtic groups today. Written in a moderately fast quadruple meter, the tune is usually busy and relentless. Here the exuberant, tinny melodies of fiddles and penny whistles are imitated by piccolo trumpets; eventually all the instruments take their turn (!) with the frivolity. A lyrical trombone solo foreshadows the return of the Habanera, which serves as a long coda after the theme of the reel has wound itself out. This A-B-A form (habanera-reel-habanera) anchors the symmetrical middle of the suite and is similar to the common pairing of Baroque dances, such as minuet and trio.

V. Pavane The pavane, a sober processional dance in quadruple meter, is likely of Italian or Spanish origin. It became popular across Europe, especially in Spain, and was often paired with the faster galliard (from Fr. gaillarde, "merry"). The first arrangements for instrumental ensembles were published in the mid-16th century in France; a number of later French composers, impelled by a nostalgia for Spanish style and custom, composed pavanes, including examples by Saint-Saëns, Fauré, and the famous Pavane pour une infante défunte (1899) by Maurice Ravel. Much of the melody in this movement-- borrowed from movements I. & II.-- is given to the alto trombone, an instrument now making a comeback after being largely ignored since the early 19th century. The Pavane proceeds without pause to--

VI. Tarantella The tarantella is named after the town of Taranto in southern Italy and is popularly associated with the large local wolf spider or "tarantula" (Lycosa tarentula, also named for Taranto) whose bite was allegedly deadly and could be cured only by frenetic dancing. In fact the venom is not hallucinogenic or especially dangerous, and the spider strives to avoid human contact; it may be that the amusing association of spider bite and therapeutic dance was a later invention designed to circumvent church proscriptions against dancing. The tarantella is in fast 6/8 meter with a vigorous, perpetual-motion melody. Dozens of composers, including Liszt and Chopin, have written stylized tarantellas. The present example is true to the classic model and balances the character of the opening Prelude.

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