Investigating The Tigers (13) Gothic echoes : Act 3, Gargoyles and Lacryma

Adrian Ure

Part 13 : Gothic echoes : Act 3

»Gargoyles« and »Lacryma« - Adrian Ure

Apologies for the absence of music examples - these will be added as soon as possible - JRM

One of the principal differences between the Cranz vocal score of The Tigers and the manuscript full score lies in the descriptions of what is happening on stage during the symphonic dances ‘Gargoyles’ and ‘Lacryma’. These function as a kind of programme to anyone listening to the music. In the vocal score, the directions are printed at intervals throughout the two movements, and the choreography (if we can call it that) and the music evidently coalesce at significant points. The full score does away with this approach. Instead, Brian inserts a similar, but differently worded, programme at the head of each movement 1.

Since the latter give further clues as to Brian’s conception of this part of The Tigers, I have quoted them in full. During the analysis, reference is also made to the version of events in the vocal score.


In the evening time - The Gargoyles far away on the Cathedral tower appear to become alive with animation as the rays of the setting sun strike across their faces. Tongues of flame and shafts of fire appear to illumine these fantastic objects - which - to the gazing eyes, appear to leap and process around the tower. As the sun disappears they assume the sphinx-like aspect which they have worn for over a thousand years.

There is no hint here of the suggestion in the vocal score that the entire action of ‘Gargoyles’ and ‘Lacryma’ constitutes the dream of the policemen featured in Act 3 Scene 1. This I think is all to the good. Not that there would be any difficulty in staging the scene in line with this idea. A gauze curtain and carefully planned lighting would suffice. But I have always felt that, as they are the main agents of comedy in Act 3, the appearance at this point of the sleeping constables would be a distraction, a dilution of the profoundly serious message the music conveys.

No Act Three prelude which begins with a fugal passage in slow tempo, originating in the lower reaches of the strings, can entirely escape comparison with Die Meistersinger. Brian’s debt indeed is immediate and obvious. The solemnity of this opening passage helps the audience clear its mind of the social satire and cod-erotic comedy in Act 2. Brian’s theme has far less musical and emotional range than Wagner’s, but his subsequent use of it is cunning and witty. The craft lies in the way he manipulates his materials to lay the basis for the movement. This can be summarised as the overthrow of one key area, the temporary hegemony of a second one, and the gradual and ambivalent reinstatement of the first. A large part of the whole process depends on a simple fact of musical grammar, the interplay between a major key and its relative minor.

Assuredly ex 68 begins in E flat major; however, its second phrase recasts it retrospectively in a modal C minor. As the example shows, the progress of the fughetta is scarcely orthodox. The second answer, entering on F, gradually edges back to the warmer atmosphere of E flat major; when (d) arrives, its previous descending 5th is displaced by a rising 4th; and this initiates a general aspirational trend throughout the orchestra,with successive entries of (b) in inversion pervading the entire fabric. They lead quickly to a resplendent climax.

Now comes a significant new theme (ex 69), which, at this first hearing, seems to grow organically out of the preceding passage. (Note especially the important figure (d) on the same notes as its initial appearance.) [‘By very imperceptible degrees’ the tower with its gargoyles is discerned at this point.]

Prior to ex 69 the music adhered to its serenely diatonic E flat major / C minor nexus. The arrival at the climactic point of a new note - D flat - initiates a process of tonal and thematic dislocation. Ex 69(a) is pervasive, at one point (256, 9) accompanying an inversion of ex 68(a) (in soprano), at another (257, 9) combining with the complete ex 68 in a rather uneasy D, in a way that emphasises the derivation of one from the other.

There is a slight break; then ex 69 steals in softly, beginning with the same three notes as it did first time round., but with a flattened profile, which it tends to assume from now on. The harmony is a major seventh on G flat (ex 69B). This is the first of many appearances in these two movements of solo cor anglais, which gains a virtual programmatic significance therein.

The process of thematic deconstruction has been halted, but not reversed. The fragments (b) and (a) of ex 68 are heard separately, before a tender treatment of ex 68 itself in canon, pp. [A gargoyle more fantastic than the rest appears.] Once again there is a tonal ambiguity. An unobtrusive pedal resembling ex 1(a) outlines the dominant of F sharp, but the melodic curve at the end of the final phrase suggests the relative minor, D sharp, and it is indeed in that key - or rather its enharmonic equivalent E flat - that the music seems inclined to settle. However, the F of the dominant chord fails to make the expected resolution, creating a persistent added 2nd.

This 5th on the dominant now becomes a flickering pattern in strings and wind. (The notes F and B flat show the continuing influence of ex 69.) This creates the sense of a new section beginning, and in fact the march of the gargoyle round the tower commences with what at first sounds like a fresh melody, firmly in E flat minor. It soon stands revealed rather as an outgrowth of ex 68, moving swiftly towards G flat by way of B flat minor. As the strain comes to a close with a reference to (d), washes of arpeggio on celeste join the panoply of sound in the background. Several repetitions of ex 68(a) ensue in the bass - throughout this section, the bass carries all the main thematic activity - then another wash of colour, this time on the xylophone. A free fantasia on ex 68 is emerging, or rather a series of developing variations, punctuated by flurries in the flickering accompaniment.

Since this part of the movement began (259, 6), the music has been subject to a continuous stringendo (reinforced by accelerando at fig 261), and by now the tempo is Allegro marcia. [[All] the gargoyles commence their nightly and ghostly march.] A more menacing and purposeful theme now strides forth, betraying still a connection with ex 68 through frequent use of fourths and fifths. (This is echoed in the flickering pattern, where F and B flat have now been joined by C.) Onward it presses until brass dissonances announce the climax of the movement. This is terrifying, spectre-haunted music, intensified by a further stringendo as the flickering pattern ranges from the depths to the heights of the orchestra. [Huge tongues of fire rush from the mouths of the gargoyles.] But within the space of a few bars, the activity in the bass having come to an end, these patterns have died away on timpani. [The flames subside, the stage grows dark.] Coldly and impassively, as if nothing had happened, the cor anglais again voices ex 69B (exactly as at 258, 1).

The negative forces have not been extinguished, however. Brian stirs the embers of the previous Allegro marcia passage, as the flickering pattern returns to life. The orchestra feels its way upwards in a chain of F, B flat, C, F etc, ending high up with another allusion to the march music, which significantly broaches the possibility, for the first time since the opening of the movement, of a key-base of C, though against a bare fifth on E flat in the bass. The tempo reverts to Lento and the flickering patterns are silenced as once again ex 69B sounds, but with bass and treble reversed.

E xhausted, all passion spent, the music now subsides into a bleak coda which reprises the principal material and moves to resolve the tonal and thematic tensions. First comes a repeat of ex 68, its string tones harking back to the opening sounds of the movement, on a G flat centre which on the analogy of previous appearances we expect to move to E flat minor. Four bars in, however, comes an imitation which, commencing on E flat major, duly makes for C minor. Instead of simply resolving in this key, it gives way to a final statement of ex 69B; for the first time the latter’s initial notes are G and C, not F and B flat.

The imitation and ex 69B have carried on in the middle register of the orchestra. The treble has continued with an ascending sequence based on the rising tail which the original fugal statement developed in place of (d). This has now reached an open fifth on G flat, which is superimposed over ex 69 in C. This painful dissonance appears to stir up memories of the tonal tensions earlier in the piece, prompting ghosts of the F-B flat-C patterns to flicker into life. These troubling sounds are quietened, however, as successively the bass, the treble and the flickering patterns themselves resolve. The end result is C major with added sixth and second (the latter on tuned percussion). Peace of a sort has come at last.

Lacryma (Tears of Sorrow)

At night time - the gargoyles far away on the Cathedral Tower when shown up in the moonlight - appear as so many sorrowful penitents, when the clouds vary across the face of the moon so do the visages of the gargoyles. One figure stands out conspicuous like Sancta Beata - weeping over her lesser sisters. At full moon, on a cloudless night they appear to move towards her and receive her benediction.

Lacryma’ has been called a homage to Dowland 2. Whether or not we hear in the frequent repetitions of one of its prominent motifs (see ex 70(a) below) the strumming of lutes is of course up to us. The courtly associations that this conjures up may seem alien to thoughts of war and destruction, but it is likely that Dowland and his contemporaries would have found less incongruity. At the heart of the movement is the weeping of angels. If ‘Gargoyles’ represents the terror of war, ‘Lacryma’ represents the pity.

Strange, wild music from the outset, ‘Lacryma’ resembles a contemporaneous work, the first of the Four miniatures for piano, in its unexpected accelerandi, chromatic stepwise movement and use of open fifths, as well as the tough counterpoint that is a constant feature of Brian’s style. Peculiar to this dance is the strong element of bitonality. Keys an augmented fifth apart are featured especially strongly; in ex 70 the confrontation is between E flat major and B minor.

A fairly lengthy opening paragraph develops the elements of ex 70 freely. The upward-sweeping seventh (a) is often isolated as a plain chord, whereas (b) is mostly plundered for its rhythmic value, although melodic development can be traced. (Compare fig 271 with 271, 7 and with 272, 3.) The chromatic descent featured in the second bar comes into play later.

While the programme from the full score, quoted above, gives the greater insight into the impulses behind this extraordinary movement, one would not want to be without the rubric in the vocal score, which makes explicit what is already hinted strongly in the music as it unfolds. This opening section, and its later recall, both take place specifically in darkness; a darkness actual and metaphorical. ‘Lacryma’ in fact constitutes a reversal of the programme of ‘Gargoyles’. There, the negative forces invaded the central portion and returned at the end before (just) being stilled. Here, they are present from the outset and occupy the outer portions of the movement, while much of the central portion affords a temporary respite.

The music suddenly breaks off. There is a dramatic pause; then, a low bare fifth. Over it - once again on cor anglais - comes an elegiac melody. [Groups of flying angels with the Virgin at their centre, to whom the others turn, weeping.] The bass hovers around D, and the theme itself is a modal, chromatically inflected D. (Is it a coincidence that its first four notes invert the first four of John Dowland’s ‘Lachrimae’?) Melodically it may seem uninspired, but in its context it is superbly expressive. Distress inheres in the very repetitiveness, the way the phrases fold back on themselves; it sounds like weeping. And there is subtlety in the balance of the phrasing, where the prevailing two-bar phrases are interrupted by two of three bars, as well as by one bar of 4/4. For this reason I quote it in full (ex 71).

A free variation on the cor anglais theme follows, incorporating much chromatic side-slipping but with ‘strumming’ arpeggios firmly anchored on D minor. Then comes an irruption of the negative forces from earlier in the movement - jagged, ferocious rhythms in bass (some based on ex 70(b)) against a powerful series of chords a semitone apart. The consolatory ex 71 is heard again [the angels put out their hands in mute appeal], but only gets as far as its first strain before drifting into a kind of codetta making reference to the ‘free variation’ material as it gently grounds in D minor.

Now, with a third principal theme (ex 72), the music seems to float becalmed, pegged back to D by its persistent, keening ostinato despite the tendency to chromatic movement in the melody itself. This lack of tonal activity creates suspense, and it is not totally unexpected when anxious flurries on the violas presage a climactic outburst of ex 71, albeit for only two bars. The effort seems to lead to a degree of exhaustion, as the light fades both literally and musically.

Now follows a rather curious passage, in which dancing semiquavers accompany another reference to the opening of ex 71 against the continuing ostinato. This brightens to A major, the semiquaver figure descending to the bassoons. Ex 70 crashes in, its E flat / B minor clash exactly as at the beginning - but this is a false reprise, and for several bars the trumpet hammers unavailingly at a terse figure partly based on ex 70(b). The passage ends with a chromatic descent to the depths; then, ex 70 again, ushering in a repeat - genuine and virtually exact - of the opening material, 39 bars of it. (There are insignificant differences in detail.)

Piu allegro, the semiquaver movement begins again on strings, the brass rearing their heads with semitonal figures (unquoted in the vocal score). Abruptly, ex 70 is upon us, its figure (a) much in evidence - major 7th chords a tritone apart are violently juxtaposed against a frenzied version of (b) in continuous semiquavers. Brian gathers his forces - ex 70(a) rising through the orchestra - for a passionate outpouring of ex 71, largamente in C sharp minor (the accompaniment being an inversion of the semiquaver patterns heard at the outset of the Piu allegro), and growing to fff. With only the hint of a break, and hushed to piano, it rises pathetically to D minor. Wispy strings carry on a semiquaver pattern against a sudden, stabbing C minor triad in the brass, followed by another chromatic descent, declining from pp to….silence?

No - for the second strain of the sorrowful ex 71 is heard once again (almost inevitably) on cor anglais. It is almost like a delayed continuation of the theme’s previous appearance, cut off at 278, 3. [The angels are seen again, folding their hands on their breasts and bowing their heads.] It ends, in place of the original third strain, with the violins giving out the more extensive first strain. Against the final, held D, the ghosts of ex 70(a) and (b) struggle into life briefly. Pity there may be, but scarce comfort. ‘Lacryma’ dies away with the woodwind still questioning, the tensions still unresolved.

NL 144 © Adrian Ure 1999

  1. The contemporary Three illuminations for piano, with their alternative descriptive programmes, provide a useful parallel. ↩︎

  2. Malcolm MacDonald, The symphonies of Havergal Brian, vol 3 (1983), p102. ↩︎

Newsletter, NL 144, 1999