Part 15 : Trysting : Act 3 scene 2 (2) - Adrian Ure Apologies for the absence of music examples - these will be added as soon as possible - JRM
The Colonel and Mrs Freebody consider their lives together.
Act 3 Scene 2 lasts 20 minutes1. For most of its length, it consists of an extended scena for the two main characters. (Mrs Freebody qualifies for inclusion in this category by virtue of her status as the "love interest", despite her presence in only two scenes.) The approximate parallel is Pantalon and Columbine’s scene in the Prologue. There is a third character, the Constable from the opening of the scene who, rather in the manner of the Night Watchman in Die Meistersinger, wanders on and off stage to punctuate proceedings with his usual refrain, Put out that light! He is particularly busy during the central portion of the scena, transforming the lovers’ duet, in effect, into a trio. As David Brown pointed out at the time of the 1983 recording for broadcast
The scene divides perfectly naturally into several constituent
Orchestral prelude 46 bars (see Part 14)
Vocal prelude (Constable with drunks) 38 bars (Part 14)
Introductory dialogue (Mrs F and Constable, then Colonel) 40 bars
Mrs Freebody’s monologue 100 bars
Trio (Mrs F, Colonel, Constable) 34 bars
Colonel’s monologue (with Constable) 133 bars
Dialogue (Mrs F and Colonel, with Constable) 55 bars
Orchestral coda 25 bars
It can be seen that the scene is arranged roughly symmetrically, with the trio in the middle. This is flanked by a solo on either side, with dialogue on the outside, the whole being buttressed by a prelude and coda.
Brian’s challenge, given the fragmentary nature of his musical materials and the lack of a firm basis in tonality, is to organise such a large structure in a way that avoids incoherence. Rather than proceeding from point to point, as I have normally done throughout this series, it may be helpful if I highlight four aspects of the musical fabric which to some extent interact. These are characterisation, direct quotation of music already heard, reminiscence of musical styles previously employed, and parody of other works.
Much of Mrs Freebody’s monologue consists of wispy, inconclusive figures, heard on strings or on single woodwind instruments. They are disconnected, and seemingly random, in keeping with her nervous, twittering and rather scatterbrained persona. However, there is another, more determined, aspect to her, which comes out in the [quaver-semiquaver rest-semiquaver] rhythm which gradually becomes pervasive. (The rhythm is often notated as [dotted quaver-semiquaver], which practically amounts to the same thing.) Its military associations, by now well established, suit a lady who evidently gets a kick out of a uniform. Indeed her remark that she is "enraptured" with the soldiers is immediately followed (Fig 329) by a variant of the "soldierly" tattoo on a major seventh which signed off Act II Scene 1. The rhythm also conveys the obsessive nature of her quest.
The Colonel’s music, as might be expected, is more purposeful—on the surface. He has more extended figures, capable of being broken up and developed. However, tonality remains in a state of flux, although there are patches of plain tonic-dominant-subdominant harmony, perhaps two or four bars in length, where he takes refuge in the history and traditions of his regiment. It all gives the impression of energetic action, but doesn’t really get anywhere, rather like Sir John himself.
This characterisation is reinforced by quotations of previous motifs. First of all comes Mrs Freebody’s threefold figure Ex 53, which occurs seven times during and after her monologue. It is interesting to observe the slight but telling variations to which Brian subjects Ex 53. A general pattern can be discerned; the figure ascends in pitch when Mrs Freebody is assertive or openly aggressive, and remains fixed on one pitch or declines when she is showing her coy or demure side. This tendency is seen to a more marked extent still in the figuration accompanying the successive versions of Ex 53. Apart from the first occasion, this is always a different treatment of the [quaver-semiquaver rest-semiquaver] rhythm.
The Constable is too peripheral a character to have much music of his own. At Fig 323, a variant of the Pop goes the weasel tune returns (see Ex 75). It is immediately preceded by a reference to the lurching bass figure that was heard when the drunkards emerged from the inn – a nice touch, suggesting the incident is still in the Constable’s mind.
Not all of the music can be assigned neatly to a particular character, and there are some borderline cases. At Fig 327, for example, comes a one-bar figure that is heard a few times. It looks at first like a spin-off of Ex 75, but it is associated not with the Constable but with Mrs Freebody. In fact it has a generic similarity to several other themes in the opera, not least through its employment of the now-ubiquitous [dotted quaver-semiquaver] rhythm. This illustrates the folly of trying to be dogmatic about what Brian may have meant by such-and-such a reference, except where the quotation is unmistakable.
The Colonel’s monologue is occupied largely by a theme that could be described in shorthand as a descending scale in semiquavers with bumps in it! In view of its future significance, it was somewhat unhelpful of me to designate this theme as Ex 29(c), which was the first of a number of disguises it adopted. Here are three more of the disguises. (Ex 79B is a sort of "narrative" version of the theme; Ex 79C is an absurd evocation of the Colonel’s "natural agility".) All three versions of the theme continue (with diminishing frequency) until the end of the scene.
As already mentioned, the style of the Green Pastures Promenade and Dance music is prominently featured in this scene, pointing up the erotic coincidences between the soldiers’ encounter with the hay makers and this old soldier’s encounter with a woman determined to make hay while she can. Comparing a passage such as 327 + 6 with the earlier scene throws up similarities of thematic contours, instrumentation and mood. (There is an amusing contrast a few bars later, when chaste chords conjure up a picture of Mrs Freebody sitting in her boudoir.)
There are more contentious parallels. At 344 + 2, for instance, a platitudinous cadential figure, which is developed in the following bars, sounds similar to Ex 40, which occurred during Lady Stout’s "nagging" scene. Both times the theme appears in contexts placing comic emphasis on the Colonel’s responsibilities. In the present scene, it is followed closely by the [semiquaver-semiquaver rest-triplet semiquaver] "Tigers" rhythm from Act I. Also, when the Colonel says, "We put things
right and clear up dirty work" (346 + 6), the orchestral music sounds reminiscent of the alternation of high and low chords associated with the Tigers’ mock battle (cf Ex 51). This type of music returns after the tucket sounds, reminding the Colonel of his duties (355 + 4).
A clearer example is the phantasmal sound conjuring up Mont Duresco, the regimental HQ, which plays a prominent part in the last portion of the scene (Ex 80). This music, first heard at 351 + 3, strongly resembles the opening of Lacryma (cf Ex 70). Both consist of a minor chord over an unrelated major seventh (which in both cases is rooted on E flat), and some of the succeeding figuration also appears to be related. The clue to the connection is, I think, given by the Colonel’s explanation that "[at Mont Duresco] I the nightmare have". If my interpretation of Lacryma is accepted, Ex 80 makes explicit the nature of the Colonel’s nightmare, and suggests a tragic sensibility lurking beneath the exterior of this bluff and somewhat comic Englishman.
Of the parodies, three can be singled out for comment. The first, as glanced at above, is non-musical; the language used by the Colonel in his narrative. Regardless of whether a specific reference to well-known operatic set-pieces like Lohengrin’s narration is intended, Brian seems to have set his sights on the fustian translations of his day, where words always seem in their wrong order to end up. This highly artificial device conveys something of the rigid, old-fashioned courtesy of the Colonel.
The second concerns a group of musical gestures that can vaguely be thought of as connoting the idea of "love". When Mrs Freebody rhapsodises about the soldiers, there is a passage marked con passione (329 + 8). The published score has a number of misspellings and actual misprints at this point; Ex 81 is an attempt to clarify matters.
The real object of Mrs Freebody’s attentions is of course one particular soldier, and it when she concentrates her fire on him that the satire becomes obvious (331 + 6). This perversion of Tristan and Isolde is worth quoting for the bathos of its last chord (Ex 82).
The comic climax arrives at the end of the trio (338 + 8), with more not-quite-Tristan chromatics and an increase—within the space of one bar—from pp to fff. Later, the Colonel’s first words of endearment are accompanied in the bass by Ex 79C, and in the treble by parallel chords (Ex 83), which recall a similar device during the Pantalon-Columbine love duet (cf 80 + 1, etc).
The end of the Colonel’s exchanges with Mrs Freebody again features a series of parallel chords, this time ascending chromatically (358 + 8), that bears a resemblance to the earlier climax in texture, and to the Tristan reference in musical language.
The third parody is heard at 353 + 7, when a tattoo from Mont Duresco recalls the Colonel to his duties. In this case there is no direct resemblance between the parody and its target – except insofar as one tattoo sounds more or less like another. However, the situation, with the lady attempting a seduction and thwarted by a premature call to barracks, awakens an irresistible comparison with Act II of Carmen. Once again, parody is used as a device to emphasise an aspect of character, but otherwise with no deeper aim than to raise a smile.
Indeed, the scene as a whole is subject—some would say the victim—of Brian’s broad sense of humour. So, as well as the wandering policeman, we have the arrival of a car whose occupant is sent away with a flea in her ear, and the fact that the Colonel persistently mispronounces PamELa’s name, and she just as persistently "starts" every time this happens. Perhaps the tactful thing to say would be that these japes belong to a more innocent age, and are liable not to be appreciated in this one.
Brian adopts his usual gambit of finishing off the scene with a brief orchestral postlude, which bids an atmospheric and lingering farewell to some of the salient themes; Ex 79C, Ex 79B and Ex 83. The last sound we hear is a harp, which descends to a bare fifth on G.
NL 147 © Adrian Ure 2000
The timing from the 1983 broadcast is actually 19 minutes and 35 seconds, making it, by half a minute or so, the longest scene in the opera. ↩︎
Newsletter, NL 147