Part 12 : Called to account : Act 2, scenes 4 (2) and 5 - Adrian Ure Apologies for the absence of music examples - these will be added as soon as possible - JRM
'We have done well; we like to hear it said.
Say it, and then, for God’s sake, say no more’ 1
Without warning the Sergeant Major appears, gives his troops a dressing down, and shepherds them away.
The dramatic entrance of the Sergeant Major brings the rustic bacchanal to a sudden end. His choice of oaths on seeing the revels — ‘What in the name of Adam and Eve are you doing here?’ — is nice. It involves him in a moral ambiguity of which he is quite unaware. If the men have been seduced by these healthy young Eves into ‘losing their innocence’, as the time-honoured cliché has it — and the burden of the Green Pastures music seems unmistakable — what would have happened had they remained on the field of battle?
Up to now the RSM has been almost literally a one-note character, operating within a tight, repetitive and diatonic framework of scales and arpeggios. But his assumptions have taken a battering, the tonality on which he relied scattered to the four winds (Ex 63). Not only is he hopelessly out of place in this setting, but he is quite unable to make a creative contribution to the flow of events.
Ex 63 to be added
Angry trills erupt in the bass, as the Sergeant Major pulls himself together to issue a few commands (Ex.28(c)). A string figure (fig 236,2) closes off the interlude by referring to the moment of the RSM’s appearance, the pattern of trills having been turned into semiquavers. These expand into a chain of descending fourths reminiscent of Ex.38(a) as the troops march off. If the connection is intentional, it is appropriate; like Napoleon in his dream, the Sergeant Major has had his whole world invalidated.
The memory of the ‘merry maids’ will not be denied, and following the swift fall of the curtain Ex 59 steals in softly in triple time, Lento marcia. (This relates to the preceding music, the descending intervals being reduced to thirds.) After five bars it is taken over by some of the vocal basses 2. The remaining men call wordlessly to each other. At fig 236,9, Brian combines four themes, all of them related in some way to Ex.59. He bolsters the scene’s structure imperceptibly by creating here a passage not identical, but similar in texture, mood, and thematic material to the initial entry of voices in the Promenade (fig 222,8). And then, the orchestral basses having pattered around for a while, the sun sets over a passage of sheer magic.
Ex 64 to be added
Typically lacking in self-indulgence, it is created using deceptively simple means. The female voices enter. Second contraltos and horn sing out Ex.64, while other women reinforce its sighing major seconds (despite its appearance of freshness, Ex64 is yet another permutation of those seconds and fourths in the original Ex.59.) This alternates, then combines, with a slight variation of the Lento marcia version of Ex 59. The root of the whole episode is a decline from the relative brightness of D major, through an uneasy C minor — note the men’s own Ex59 referent tracing the pattern C-G-F-D in two-bar phrases - and Eb minor. Now the basses sing the altered version of Ex59. the tenors Ex64 and the women a few bars of artless yet effective counterpoint, before the orchestral basses, descending from F through Fb to Eb, ground the music gently in Ab minor.
And there it stays: for although the succeeding episode melts from chord to chord, a tonic-dominant pedal underlies the continual flutter of semiquavers, keeping a firm unobtrusive grip on the new key. An element of non-literal repetition — again, that chromatic decline from F to Eb in the bass — strengthens the mood of serene valediction. The final word is given to the cor anglais which lazily outlines Ex59 as it sinks to a bare fifth on Ab.
The architecture of this scene, particularly its key scheme, is fascinating. The Dance can be seen as a pattern of variations, of which the first part always consists of treatments of Ex59, the second of ‘interjections’, including arpeggiated figures and a high degree of chromatic side-slipping.
A/f# G/e figs bars
> 220,6 - 221,4 9 First theme (ex 56) and pendants G>F>e (ex 57)
> 221,5 - 222,7 13 Second theme (ex 58) f#
> 222,8 - 223,6 19 Episode (refers to ‘second theme’ material) e
223,4 - 224,4 11 Development (mainly ‘first theme’ material) **c# ** moving towards…
224,5 - 224,9 5 First theme (pendants only, omits ex 56) F>e (ex 57)
> 225 - 225,5 6 Second theme (ex 58) f#
> 225,6 - 226,3 8 Theme (ex 59 = same material as Promenade, first theme) G
Interjections include ex 60 on D, C#chord
> 226,4 - 226,9 6 Variation 1 G
Interjections include ex 60 on E, G-F-E bass
> 227 - 228 11 Variation 2 e (incorporating ex 61)
Interjections include ex 60 (extended) on F
> 228,1 - 229,4 14 Variation 3 d ** No ex 60, ex 62 instead **Bb and Gb - then ex 59 theme ‘false start’ on G, ex 60 (extended) on D
> 229,5 - 231,2 18 Variation 4 G (although ex 59 still on D)
> Interjections on Ab, D, f# - no ex 60
231,3 - 232,8
Stretto-reprise 1 (material)
ex 59 on A ** ex 62 on **C
ex 59 on Gb ** ex 62 on **A
Ex 62 in C/on G (bass refers to var 4)
Ex 60 on D, C# chord
232,9 - 234,6
Stretto-reprise 2 (key)
Ex 59 on Eb>B>
G (3 bars, with bugle call)
Ex60 repeatedly on D, otherwise ex 59 and other interjections career about all over the place ending on A
234,7 - 236,3
Non-thematic and non-tonal (ex 63) (except ex 28(c) on D)
> 236,4 - 239,9 36 Coda 1 (ex 59) on A/d - then C>Eb to ex 64 on c/C>eb>ab
239,9 - 241,5 17 Coda 2 (distantly from ex 59, also interjections) ab
The entire scene is built around the axes of G major/E minor and A major/F sharp minor, with the former ceding ground to the latter. (The two most notable departures from these key centres are D minor, in which the music floats becalmed after a lengthy period of G/E minor dominance in Variation 3; and C#, an utterly remote chord which has the potential to initiate drastic key changes.) Although C major seems to maintain a presence until late on in the proceedings, its last four appearances are hedged around with ambiguities. The ‘false start’ in Variation 3 is blown aside after only one bar. The following variation introduces the theme on the dominant of the key, while later the reverse procedure is adopted; now the theme, itself on C, is harmonised in its subdominant. The final (non-thematic) C major patch is glimpsed hurriedly amidst a welter of other keys, and coincides with a bugle-call from the battlefield. Paraphrasing, we might say that the Tigers and their consorts escape (literally and metaphorically) from the C major world of the everyday and of the field of battle, and that the bugle-call represents a desperate attempt to recall then (literally and metaphorically) to that world. Of course, the bugle is by its very nature ideally suited to this, as it is more or less restricted to the one key.
Despite the soldiers’ and the haymakers’ success in leaving C major/B minor behind them, they fail to achieve their ultimate goal, for the appearance of A major and F# minor are also fleeting. The Sergeant Major causes the unexpected lack of fulfilment here, his music being totally dislocated from a tonal centre, so that the beginning of the coda already partakes of the kind of ambiguity noticed earlier in relation to Ex59. The final destination is Ab minor, whose root lies between those of the two main key centres. Herein lies some of the complexity of tone that informs these final bars; the scene as a whole aspires from G towards Ab, but the coda declines from what might have been, to what actually is achieved.
The Tigers have been defeated. Sir John reviews the reasons and berates his NCOs and men, before praising their ‘undaunted courage’.
The Ab bare fifth on which Scene 4 ends is shattered by one on D, a tritone away. Ex.37(a), which contains this interval, dominates the scene from the beginning, lending a note of diablerie to Sir John’s gentle upbraiding of his troops Thus the all-pervasive bare fifth — the opera’s basic consonance — is continually being threatened and undermined. This is frequently accomplished very subtly, with Ex.37 ‘in disguise’. One particular appearance is especially significant:
The accompanying words are ‘My lads! dreams are not what they seem’, bringing a verbal as well as a musical recall of Scene 1. Ex.37(a) occurs in its basic form during the first two bars of the scene, together with a chromatic descent in the treble. This latter transmutes itself into a three-note semiquaver figure descending stepwise, and as such plays an integral role in the scene.
Add example 65
As well as these unifying elements — bare fifth (Ex 1(a)), tritone (Ex 37), three-note stepwise descent — there are some notable musical responses to the text. Ex 65 portrays the Tigers retiring ‘muttering to [their] caves’. Later, when the Colonel is lecturing the NCOs about their weak strategy, he says that they erred in making their men run in the valley.
The bathos of those last words is highlighted by the entry of a fresh, perky little theme, burgeoning into an imitative passage between treble and bass which disrupts the phrase lengths into two or three bars (Ex.66).
Add example 66
Throughout much of Scene 5, inspiration has seemed to run at a low ebb. This is not to deny that the result is effective and amusing. The skill and point of Brian’s word-setting rarely let his down, and certainly not here. The surrounding music, though, has the faintly mechanical note-spinning met with occasionally in Act 1 Scene 2.
Interest revives with the Sergeant Major’s story of how he discovered his reinforcements ‘larking with the girls in the hayfield’, and consequently arrested them. Closed off at both ends by the obligatory Ex 27(a), it is again in recitativo style, interspersed with more quasi-atonal fragments, sounding even more skeletal this time.
At the Sergeant Major’s news, Sir John turns to his troops ‘more in sorrow than in anger’. He stoically reminds himself, as much as them, that ‘petticoats’ exert a perennial fascination, which counteracts the greatest military strategists, even Alexander and Napoleon. (Fittingly, the music of this passage, a slow march in which the initial D major is continually pinned back to B major on the final teat of the bar, incorporates a version of Ex.37(a), from the Napoleon scene, as an ostinato. The blight of Sir John’s dreams has not distorted or destroyed this figure without paradoxically ennobling it.)
Add example 67
The peroration of the Colonel’s speech is heralded by a powerful, rugged outburst. Ex 1(a)’s perfect fifth and Ex 37’s augmented fourth are transmuted into Ex 67’s augmented fifth. (There is probably a reference to Ex 28, which first brought the Colonel to centre stage. (x), (y) and (z) can be seen as perverted reminiscences of Ex 28(c) and (b), and Ex 27(b) respectively. If Brian intends this, it encapsulates a process of disintegration analogous to that affecting the broader spheres of the opera’s development: unlike the Colonel’s previous two speeches, there is no pretence of ternary form, and the sole unifying force is the continued use of Ex 37 and its variants.)
Since it has come earlier than expected, solely because the Tigers are hungry and want something to eat, the peroration has already been undercut effectively. Its substance, while anticlimactic, is well suited to the topsy-turvy world of these soldiers and their Colonel. First, the various elements of Ex 67 are repeatedly deployed. Having disgraced themselves in sham battle, and no doubt fully aware of their prospects in the actual field of combat, the soldiers are asked to show their courage and fearlessness — by giving a rapid fire salute. (This brings a further recall, of the beginning of Act 1, figs 97,8 and 98,9.) As though sheer weight of noise might drown out doubt, organ and trombones fling their weight behind the choral block chords in the last three bars 3, but significantly they cannot agree on the final chord, E major in the orchestra and a bare fifth on G sharp in the voices.
NL95 revised / © Adrian Ure 1999
A P Herbert: After the battle ↩︎
I take the term ‘semichorus’ here, by the way, to indicate a general reduction in choral forces throughout, not the fact that only the men happen to be singing at this point. ↩︎
A crowd including the characters from Scenes 3 and 4 is directed to ‘encroach’ on the parade ground throughout Scene 5. Presumably the male constituents of this crowd join in with the Tigers at the same time as the ladies (ie at fig 253,5). ↩︎
Newsletter, NL 95, 1999