Investigating The Tigers (10) Garden party : Act 2, scene 3 (1)

Adrian Ure

Part 10 : Garden party : Act 2, scene 3 (1) - Adrian Ure Apologies for the absence of music examples - these will be added as soon as possible - JRM

The Bishop tells us: ‘When the boys come back
They will not he the same: for they’ll have fought
In a just cause…’ 1

While battle between the Tigers and the Hornets is waged in the valley below, a bishop holds forth to a group of ladies.

Ex 46 to be added

A percussive clatter, Ex 46 (whose first note provides the teasing final F# of Scene 2 with a teasingly violent resolution) is nudged towards F major. This move, though unexpected, is significant. Precisely the same tonal shift accompanied the transition from the good-natured Bank Holiday revelries of Prologue Scene 1 to the sinister intimations of war in Scene 2. Here, as in so many other places, the Prologue casts an ironic shadow on a later part of the opera. Act II Scene 2, despite many playful asides and diversions, constitutes a preparation for warfare; the following scene lands us in the thick of battle, albeit with characteristic Brian obliqueness. The battle is a mock one, and is never seen directly but reflected, as it were, in the unctuous platitudes of the visiting Bishop, and the breathless commentary of the haymakers later. Brian is by no means blind to the tendency to hijack God in the cause of military endeavour, and the audience may recall the ‘six grey-bearded clergymen’ of Act I, with their easy enthusiasms.

The fragments of melody which characterise the Bishop (Exx 47 and 48) exude billows of incense and the musty smell of prayer books. During what amounts to a monologue, Ex.47 is heard five times in all, its companion seven times, pointing up the endlessly self-reflective nature of the Bishop’s conversation.

Exx 47,48 to be added

Again Brian employs the technique of severely limiting the vocal range in motifs like this, to suggest restricted mental and spiritual horizons. The use of Ex 48 at sententious moments lends an air of fatuous complacency. Furthermore, both phrases have resonances derived from sources outside their immediate context Ex 48 descends directly from Ex 30, and calls to mind the similar stock patriotism found there. Ex.47 leans further back, to the Lutheran chorale Ein’ feste Burg — apt in view of its warlike imagery 2.

Both examples can be seen to stem ultimately from Ex 29(b), stressing once more how alike in certain essentials the Colonel and the Bishop are.

The Bishop begins in the mood which he will sustain throughout, Andante moderato (soon slowing to Molto lento) and serenely diatonic, centring around F and Bb major. A brillante passage for solo violin undercuts his pontifical solemnity, and from time to time his musings are interspersed with luxuriant chromatic outgrowth, (Ex 49).

Ex 49 to be added

One of the Ladies interrupts him, shouting excitedly, along with an orchestral outburst related to Ex 46, which itself returns shortly. These are but momentary intrusions into the somnolent atmosphere enfolding the Bishop’s sermon, from which he refuses to be deflected. Fittingly, it proves to be an incidental remark of his, not the rather more momentous event he is supposed to be witnessing, which precipitates a sudden displacement from the prevailing F/Bb.

Ex 50 to be added

At the mention of the devil and dirty hands, the ladies display exaggerated shock (Ex 50), countered by the Bishop’s hasty assurances. (Note the diminished Ex 47 scurrying anxiously in the bass.) He was merely quoting his grandfather, ‘a most strange man, yet very righteous and godly’. Ex 51’s juxtaposition of chords and intervals (disguising another version of Ex 47) seems strange enough, while stern godliness is pilloried in open fifths, notably accompanying Ex 47 when the Bishop remarks on his grandfather’s aversion to roast duck.

Ex 51 to be added

(Once again we see Brian’s care with characterisation. A more lavish use of this chord might have been expected, but in fact its only use here is in connection with the grandfather. The Bishop’s own brand of godliness sounds altogether too ‘comfortable’ to admit of anything so crude as an open fifth.) The explanation, graphically illustrated by chromatic slithers in the bass — that ‘he once saw a duck swallow a frog’ — sends the ladies once more into a state of shock (Ex 50).

His digression over, the Bishop returns to the subject of the Tigers (‘Speaking of idleness…’), the original Lento, and one of the initial musical ideas (Ex 49), imparting a vague impression of ternary form to this rather rambling stretch of monologue. A discussion about the sergeants’ drinking hours ensues, the Bishop replying with strong draughts of complacency, washed down with Ex 48. In his view, everything in a Tiger’s life is subjugated to ‘the great test on the battlefield’ (invoked solemnly on the brass). His final ‘I never believe such slanders’ gains in emphasis through being one of the very few spoken lines in the opera.

A short chat about the Colonel and the continuing battle precedes the appearance of the local hero himself. A ‘worthy’, Mrs Freebody, contrives an invitation to the barracks to ‘meet the boys’, having first knocked the Bishop’s hat off.

With the entry of a ‘man in tweeds’ (described as ‘Man in Plus Fours’ in the cast list), the conversation becomes livelier 3. The music hints at previous themes associated with the Tigers and their commander. The jaunty idea connected with the battalion’s "tradition and dignity" (cf 198, 1 with 118, 7) hints at Sir John’s imminent appearance. There are more tendentious references to Ex 21(b) (197) - after all, this superficial exchange is similar in subject and type to those in Act 1 Scene 1 - and, in the shape of Ex 52(a), to the Colonel’s florid Ex 44.

Ex 52 to be added

Ex.52 buttresses at both ends this passage of polite, meaningless dialogue. The orchestra meanwhile finds plenty of opportunity for satiric observations in the form of repeated notes, sudden dives into remote keys, and, at one point, a series of unrelated open fifth chords, jumping around different registers. These subside into chugging chords as the Colonel enters. At once the ‘gorgeously overdressed’ Mrs Freebody, who has up till now remained ostentatiously aloof, starts inching towards the group.

The Colonel comes forward to greet the Bishop, to the accompaniment of a banal bassoon formula, but the centre stage is assuredly occupied by Mrs Freebody, as she commits her carefully calculated gaffe. Ex 53 seems to mimic the swish of voluminous skirts, sketching, in conjunction with another idea, Ex 54, on celeste, the portrait of a skittish, playful woman. As a tireless worker for the ‘Missions to the Heathen’ she naturally earns the Bishop’s seal of approval (Ex 48). Her first words, the seductive curve of the vocal line contrasting with the Bishop’s dry _parlando_delivery, indicate other interests (Ex 55). Interjections of the wispy Ex 53 supply the aural equivalent of a fan being waved coyly.

Exx 53, 54, 55 to be added

Counterbalancing in some measure the Bishop’s somewhat lengthier recitative is the exploratory dialogue which ensues, Sir John and Mrs Freebody’s social games are interrupted once only, in a remark by one of the ladies.

In the orchestra Ex 53 alternates with open fifths; at first chiefly on E and C and with military resonances (cf Ex 44 etc), these gradually soften into languorous chromatic progressions under the influence of Pamela Freebody. On one occasion (fig 203,4) Ex 51’s confrontation of B and C returns. The motivation for this is obscure. The juxtaposition of these keys recalls Ex 27(a) (one of the ideas heard at the original appearance of Sir John), but the connection with the Bishop’s grandfather, if any, is difficult to discern. On the other hand, Ex 51 may simply be a ‘polite conversation’ formula, both appearances occurring within this framework. A ‘noise like a ship’s siren’ punctuates the couple’s discussion, together with a bugle call (incorporating an augmented octave — perhaps an incidental comment on the playing abilities of army buglers) signalling Sir John back to headquarters. Open fifths are heard in the bass, in a martial rhythm (dotted semiquaver+demisemiquaver) reminiscent of the ‘Wild Horses’ sequence. They become by turns skittish, for Mrs Freebody’s hints (prompting the reappearance of Ex 53), and indulgent, for the Colonel’s bland invitation — which suggests, without quite achieving, a conventional tonic-dominant formula.

The Bishop pontificates a little on the reasons for Sir John’s hurried departure, while strings and horns mark time.

Finally, in response to his suggestion, the group moves away. The orchestra conducts a kind of lightning survey of the scene so far, by musing on some of its salient themes — Exx 53 and 55 (followed by a pause); Ex 49; and the quixotic Ex 51, all pp or ppp.

NL88 revised / © Adrian Ure 1999

  1. Siegfried Sassoon They ↩︎

  2. The chorale’s use in Symphony No 4, Das Siegeslied, was many years away (1932-33). Though the scale, treatment, and result are very different, the satiric impulse is much the same: to supply a musical image of the justification by ‘righteousness’ of acts of naked militarism. ↩︎

  3. An ambiguity in the vocal score — the B in front of the stave has not been cancelled, and the direction pertaining to the Man in Tweeds concerns only his entrance — led the editors of the 1976 edition of the libretto, issued by the Aberdeen branch of the HBS, to assign the line ‘I like their appearance’ to the Bishop. However, the vocal line marks a complete break from the preceding material, and whereas the remark is improbably trite even for the Bishop at this point, it seems a suitable conversational gambit for somebody just coming on the scene. In the MS full score the line is given to the "Man", but with no indication of his entrance, leading one to suppose he has been onstage since the scene began. ↩︎

Newsletter, NL 88, 1999