Part 11 : Haymaking : Act 2, scenes 3 (2) and 4 (1) - Adrian Ure Apologies for the absence of music examples - these will be added as soon as possible - JRM
Haymakers observe and comment on the progress of the battle.
The peace is violently shattered. ‘Behind the scenes’, while a stentorian voice shouts "Charge! Up and at ‘em!", brass instruments give tonue to jagged snatches of the battle music from Ein Heldenleben, supported by insistent bare fifths in the bass, juddering between C and C# and dying away on a D. In Strauss’s original, ‘The hero’s deeds in battle’ are set in stark relief by the angularity of the principal theme and by the uncompromising dissonances of his battle music, so much at variance with the harmonic language characteristic of the rest of the work. Likewise Brian’s 13 bars employ a higher level of dissonance than any other music between the dream sequences that open Acts II and III. (A very brief exception is the bugle call at fig 204,2 whose intervallic leaps and supporting rhythms anticipate the present passage.)
Several responses are possible. It seems likely, because of the arbitrary, unexpected nature of the sequence, that Brian is debunking the ‘heroism’ of Sir John and the subsidiary characters, as he did during Act II Scene 1 with Alexander and Napoleon. Alternatively, perhaps, Brian intends us to catch a glimpse of the true nature of war, the background to the "sham battle", in this violent outburst. If this is so, it is vitiated by the very means employed. Use of another’s work, however serious the intention, rarely has the force of the original, and, in this context, lays itself open to a third response, which is that the composer is simply indulging in a sly joke.
The Heldenleben music dissolves with a further rise, to E, and a single reference to Ex 1a. A bevy of haymakers runs on, ‘bronzed, healthy and young’. Simple exchanges between soprano and contralto, flute roulades and a pulsating horn are maintained for several bars of straightforward E major (though with intrusive Cs). The time signature is 6/8, speed Allegretto pastorale. As if that were not enough, the soldiers are described as ‘pretty’, continuing the deflationary process. After contemplating a tritone, the women conclude that the Tigers are, after all, fighting.
This, the only section of the opera in which a single-sex chorus is heard for a sustained length of time, displays a resourceful use of the medium, with many devices employed. These include block chords (fig 214,2), unison (fig 212,9), imitation and quasi-imitation (figs 215,9 and 211,5) and antiphonal effects (fig 209,3). Neither rhythmically nor in the disposition of vocal lines is there any apparent intention to be naturalistic. Nevertheless the stylised treatment allows for humorous pictorial effects (figs 213,1 and 216,6).
By now it is presumably dawning on the audience that, after all the expectation generated by the preliminaries, not so much as a glimpse of battle is to be vouchsafed. The objective — and panoramic — viewpoint of the haymakers affords an opportunity for reflection, while their breathless chatter has more comic potential than a literal stage picture. Charging about, falling over each other, it comes across as a game to the soldiers and is described as such by the spectators.
Though the orchestra is reduced to a subsidiary role, it supplies many telling details, Chief amongst these is Ex 38 (which, it will be remembered, is a distortion of the basic Ex la). This asserts itself, and particularly its tritone, on many occasions, sometimes in the most cunning guises:
Ex 38 to be added
A related interval which appears with increasing frequency is the augmented fifth.
Changes in pulse — or rather in movement, since on the first two occasions the beat remains the same — occur three times, always in connection with some development on the battlefield. On sight of the Sergeant Major, the continuous semiquaver motion initiated by the flute roulades suddenly stops, the music goes into simple time and tritones similar to Ex 37c pussyfoot around in the bass (fig 213,7). The effect is absurdly suggestive of men ‘cowering’ and ‘cringing’ especially given a pp descending tritone that follows three ff brass notes, which presumably portray the ‘bawling’ RSM himself. Also associated with him is the peremptory Ex 28c, a variant of which appears when he is identified. Its rhythm was heard when he was first sighted, in the form of a brusque bare fifth on C.
The escape of the Colonel’s horse is likewise associated with the galloping rhythm dotted semiquaver+ demisemiquaver, as well as with another change of time signature, into 3/4.
Lastly comes an actual change of tempo. The women’s voices halt on an augmented triad on G, and an upward-swooping scale dissolves into an ostinato on cor anglais against a G-D pedal, Andante grazioso. In rapt, flowing thirds the haymakers wonderingly comment that the Tigers are forsaking ‘the field of battle’ (aptly conveyed by a couple of slowly descending tritones on a single horn). With carefully assumed naivety, they decide to depart, to graceful descending stales and modal chord sequence expressive of maidenly propriety.
The Tigers rush on. (In fact, as Scene 5 makes clear, the troops detailed as reinforcements do, rather than the main fighting force.) Their plea to help the maidens with their ‘tossing and shaking’ 1 bears marked rhythmic and motivic similarities to the maidens’ earlier comments (cf fig 219,4-6 with fig 217,8-fig 218), but with a contrasting manner of presentation. Their uncouth energy is set forth in plain major triads and vigorous arpeggiated figures. Yet, as they candidly admit, they are ‘really harmless’.
The Tigers and the haymakers explore the beauties of nature together
A ff downward scale passage halts dead as the Promenade steals in, marking the opening of Scene 4. Its opening bars, over tramping crotchets, are the wellspring of the entire scene (Ex 56). The cor anglais and other winds evoke the pastoral setting of a graceful act of courtship, the dotted-note rhythm having evolved to suggest a stately sarabande, displaced frequently by hemiolas. Yet the outwardly relaxed mood cannot mask a degree of tension, even urgency, to which the drifting harmonies contribute. Their pervasive downward tendency, embodied in the encircled notes of Ex 56, is probably mainly responsible for a markedly nostalgic atmosphere in the music.
Ex 56 to be added
A sigh from the strings, in tandem with (y), reduces this to a descent from C to D# within the context of C major/E minor. The descent is repeated over a larger canvas by a significant pendant on F, then, suggesting E minor, a rather Brahmsian idea with flowing bass thirds, of which Ex 57 gives the first bar.
Ex 57 to be added
The second main theme, Ex 58, adopts the darker hues of F# minor, and is linked to Ex 56 by the use of the cor anglais, the tramping bass, and the falling fourth (z). Neapolitan G minor is glimpsed briefly, underpinned by Ex 57a, before the return of a variation of Ex 58, dwelling a little longer on (c) amid changing harmonies.
Ex 58 to be added
A fter the initial themes on G (Ex 56) and F# (Ex 58), the ‘declining’ process continues with an episode on E minor. This brings the entry of the wordless mixed chorus. The effect is powerfully erotic, and gives the impression of forces awakening from slumber. A shifting three-note ostinato, reminiscent of Ex 25a and Ex 21c, contains the major seconds and perfect fourths (fifths in transposition) of Ex 56a.
After referring briefly to the idea introduced by the chorus, and to Ex 58b and (c). the orchestra launches into evermore spirited and energetic developments of (x), (y) and (z), interrupted by curious repeated chords. The time has evidently come for more urgent forms of courtship. Significantly, Ex 56, which has been worked fairly exhaustively, never returns in its original form. Instead, the third interruption, appearing at the climactic moment, is Ex 57, breezing in with all the nonchalance it can muster. Thereafter a ‘mini-recapitulation’ pursues its appointed course, joined at Ex 58 by intensely chromatic voices on holiday from Daphnis and Chloë. A final sigh from muted strings encapsulates the chromatic side-slipping that has been such a feature of this section.
If the Promenade ham been full of the languors and passions of young love, the Dance that follows sets forth some of its vigour and exuberance. It begins Allegro vivo with Ex 59, a direct transformation of Ex 56.
Ex 59 to be added
Both dotted-note and ‘straight’ versions are heard throughout, often concurrently, though the latter is always the prerogative of the chorus. Ex 59 is often heard alongside the oboe figure (unquoted in the vocal score), which consists of Ex 56’s salient intervals, perfect fourth and major second.
Suddenly a rude interruption broaches the key of C# major (Ex 60), but scuttles away as if ashamed of its bad manners, with more chromatic side-slipping. Ex 59 returns. This time the orchestral bass’s tentative groping downwards is rewarded by landing on E, with first Ex 60, then a fresh version of Ex 59. Thus the trend of the Promenade is once more observed.
Ex 60 to be added
Ex 59’s second full statement, Più lento, incorporates Ex 61, which once again emphasises the important perfect fourth and major second.
Ex 61 to be added
No sooner has this been heard than the brass erupt, and we are off once more. Ex 59 disintegrates (although the four-note descent implicit in Ex.56 returns twice in the bass and is developed), the chromatic side-slipping becoming more frenetic than ever. When Ex 59 reappears in D minor (with counter-melody in trumpet), it seems to possess a greater degree of purpose, but leads instead to a startlingly banal interjection on brass (Ex 62). It may be held to constitute a healthy shout of enjoyment.
Ex 62 to be added
Brian’s formal processes are partly those of variation and rondo, but cannot completely be described with reference to either. The structure is his own. Each presentation of Ex 59 lasts for four bars, the main material being used as an ostinato. Each time it appears in a new key, and displays a different character. At the end of each four-bar statement, Ex 59’s further progress is deflected by a thematic element which colours the ensuing, much freer, treatment of Ex 59 itself.
The music, having descended through F and E to reach its appointed D (minor), now has to decide where to go next. Ex 62, which is more like a ‘melody’ than the previous upheavals, introduces a note of whimsy by hinting at unlikely possibilities (Bb and Gb). Ex 59 tries G again — in the process acquiring a new three-note tail — but this comes too suddenly. It turns after one bar to a display of angry counterpoint akin to that in the Promenade (cf fig 229,3 with fig 224,4), with trombones charging up the scale in an extension of Ex 60.
Now comes a Più tranquillo passage, an interlude in which the music is held in a state of entranced immobility. Ex 59 extends for the first time over eight bars. Both main- and counter-melody (in canon with itself) are on D again, despite a bass suggesting G. Various keys then jostle for supremacy from bar to bar, but this is more in the nature of a satiric reflection on the style of the music itself.
Structurally, however, the situation is far from static. The resumption of Ex 59, along with the re-entry of the voices after 39 bars’ absence, is on yet another key. Within five bars Exx 61, 62 and 60 have also been heard. Brian is drawing his materials together. One has the sensation of being dragged quickly past previous landmarks; moreover, the irruptive C# of Ex 60 proves to be just what was needed to get the music out of its tonal rut. It remains stable just long enough for some joyful reiterations of Ex 62 over a scampering version of the bass to the ‘interlude’ section, before continuing in its headlong search for a resting place.
A distant bugle call - cf Ex 1 - tries to recall the Tigers to a sense of G and duty. Although only some of them respond — the basses suddenly coming to a realisation of their situation —it initiates a rapid, panicky disintegration of Exx 59 and 60 leaping wildly from key to key until A is snatched at, seemingly out of nowhere.
NL92 revised/ © Adrian Ure 1999
‘With pickle and rake’. As John Grimshaw has explained, ‘pickle’ is a Midlands word meaning ‘pitchfork’. ↩︎
Newsletter, NL 92, 1999