TREVOR HOLD has dragged
from oblivion some music
you will not know.
This work was the result of a terrible mistake. The Variety Club of Great
Britain wanted to commission a light-hearted piece to celebrate its Diamond
Jubilee and one of its committee members recommended Edmund Rubbra, under
the illusion that during his wartime service with the Army Music Unit, the
composer had run a combo under the title 'Ed Rubb and his Hot Seven' (Eric
Gruenberg on violin, Bill Pleeth on doublebass and Rubbra himself on keyboards).
Surprisingly, Rubbra accepted the commission, telling friends that he welcomed
the opportunity it gave him to let his hair down. Though the work is in
some ways characteristic of its composer, the comedy element, it has to
be admitted, is teasingly elusive.
The music opens impressively with its main - nay, only - theme: three
descending tones, blazed out maestoso in unison on the brass. We
are quickly made aware of the comic allusions of the theme, when it is repeated
a minor third higher on tutti woodwind. This three-note motive can subsequently
be detected in almost every bar of the piece, giving it a high degree of
unity. In the contrapuntally-inspired Moderato ma non troppo which
follows, the theme is treated fugally in eight part, with every conceivable
canonic variant displayed: inversion, diminution, double diminution, augmentation,
double augmentation, double inversion, inverted diminution, augmented diminution,
etc.. Just as we are thinking that the composer cannot possibly have any
more tricks up his sleeve and that we could perhaps do with a bar or two's
rest, comes the pièce de resistence. The music reaches a mighty
dissonance (dominant 7th in its final inversion) hammered out on full orchestra
followed by a repeat of the Moderato, but this time with the
music heard backwards! And the surprises are by no means over. The music
unexpectedly changes course and out of the depths appears what sounds like
a new theme. But no: it is the same old three notes again, this time treated
as a passacaglia. After some ingenious orchestral polyphony, the work reaches
a brilliant conclusion with the 'motto' blazed out in full orchestral unison.
The Comedy Overture may not perhaps be the 'laugh a minute' that
one admirer has suggested, but nevertheless it is a welcome example of this
normally austere, solemn composer in jovial mood - 'loosening his braces',
as it were.
Copyright © 13 April 2000, Trevor
Hold, Peterborough, UK
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