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Second Sight - Music with Wilfrid Mellers

1. Copland's centenary

 

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This prentice work, discovered in only 1983, is clearly a harbinger of the Two Pieces for string quartet of 1928, probably the earliest Copland composition to have become part of the repertory. The first of the pieces (Molto Lento) has an affinity with Stravinsky, whom Copland deeply admired, in the hollow, luminous spacing of the parts and in its quiet, slowly ritualistic gait. The oscillating diatonic concords of the opening bars, with the second violin's drooping ninth that creates a 'blue' false relation, are, however, the heart of Copland, evoking both a hymnic sobriety typical of rural New England and a wistful lonesomeness revealed as the urbanly jazzy blue-note figure is obsessively repeated in sundry permutations, though without evolution or growth. The harmonic movement is vastly slow; even the climax is harmonically static, being built over an ostinato, or revolving 'cam', in the bass.

The second piece, Rondino, brings the thin textures of Copland's early Parisian works into contact with his New York home, for it adapts the nervy rhythmic contradictions of New York jazz to his cosmopolitan idiom. It is not quite black jazz since there is no earth-beat for the melodies to swing against; but it uses rhythmic contrariety - mostly a fight between 2 2 and 3-plus-5 8 - to promote an urban vivacity that is more than a shade jittery. Although the piece has more harmonic movement, as well as surface animation, than the Lento molto, its rondo structure means that it doesn't develop climacterically. Repeatedly it returns to its starting-point; in so far as it moves, it is by linear permutation rather than by harmonic progression.

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Copyright © 22 July 2000 Wilfrid Mellers, York, UK

 

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