Music and Vision homepage Ask Alice - Fridays at M&V


<<  -- 2 --  Malcolm Miller    NAÏVE AND SENTIMENTAL MUSIC


The simple guitar and harp chords that 'accompany' the idée fixe oboe and flute melody of the first movement, gradually become a complex web of accents and cross accents, a fluctuating tapestry of stratified rhythms. The piece combines these cybernetic minimal processes with a classical sense of form, the first movement articulated in three large waves and recapitulation of a central idée fixe melody. The second is a three-part lullaby and the finale a moto perpetuo in gradual crescendo. The use of a long breathed melody or 'idée fixe' is new to Adams' pure minimalism, which, as in the slow movement, usually is based on simple figures rather than tunes. In the first movement the oboe introduces the melody, quasi-ironic in its soupy neo-Romanticism, almost crass except that it avoids predictability, and is counterpointed. Yet the main interest is in the galvanising surges of energy as the rhythmic polyphony and shifting patterns build, with a Stravinskian blend of wildness and subtlety, to memorable climaxes.

The slow movement begins with a seemingly defiant gesture, a simple falling triad which then continues to trace the arpeggio. Played on the violins in a slow regularity, as a type of ground bass, it is combined with an expressive short phrase on the guitar, and eerie sustained resonances of bowed percussion. This timbral colouring evokes a contrast between the 'naïve' Coplandesque Americanism with exotic sonorities, again contrasted by dramatic orchestral gestures in a vivid exchange of triads in the middle section. One of the most evocative effects is the final hushed return of the strings' theme, with pianissimo brass chords.

The finale is perhaps predictably frothy and effervescent, yet here again demonstrating Adams's mastery of the orchestra, his imaginative palette and ability to generate exciting continuities in flux. It was not so much the sheer volume of the final climax that was energising, rather the brilliance of the rhythmic counterpoints based on simple gestures -- with the final trumpet tones the piece came to an abrupt halt, as if the composer had merely run out of ink. Naïve and Sentimental it was not; rather, the piece as a whole affirmed the continued power and beauty of Adams's distinctive minimalist idiom.

Copyright © 8 September 2001 Malcolm Miller, London, UK







 << Music & Vision home           National Ambition >>