Investigating The Tigers (7) The dogs of war : Act 1, scene 2

Adrian Ure

Part 7 : The dogs of war: Act 1, scene 2 - Adrian Ure Apologies for the absence of music examples - these will be added as soon as possible - JRM

Crowds have gathered to watch a regiment, the Tigers, entrain. Prominent among them are the clergymen and ladies. Three policemen, perhaps the only people who know what the excitement is about, vainly try to maintain order.

The drop curtain portraying the street scene rises, revealing the approach to a ‘large railway station’. Everywhere there is noise and clamour, chiefly produced by three independent SATB choruses. Brian places them thus: ‘Section I on roofs and at windows. Section II and Section III are crowds at Street turnings’. 21 vocal lines — counting the clergymen, ladies and policemen — enable unusually flexible choral writing, whose textures are many and varied. Counterpoint, antiphony and vast frescoes of sound underline the confusion and turmoil on stage (Ex 24). By contrast, Brian’s orchestral writing here seems laboured. Close investigation reveals an intricate mosaic, created from Ex 21(c) (fig 104 plus 9 bars), Ex 22B (its interval sometimes increased to an augmented fourth) (fig 106,4), Ex 23 (fig 105,4), and Ex 22(a) (fig 106,3). There are neat comic touches. as when the clergymen’s response to the policemen s accusations of jostling — ‘No, no! You are most decidedly wrong’ —is set to a triplet figuration which is then bandied about, mockingly, by the crowds.

Ex 24 to be added

Despite such apparent ingenuity, it is questionable whether these far-fetched transformations are worth the carriage. They are surely unlikely to be picked up by most listeners, being at this point swamped, physically and psychologically, by what is happening on stage. Only with the excited shout ‘There they are!’ (fig 106,5) does a real ‘theme’ burst forth, an armour-plated affair (Ex 25). Its initial rhythm is that of Ex 23, which has been sounding insistently at intervals throughout the previous section.

Ex 25 to be added

Heretofore Brian has been accomplishing three tasks simultaneously: creating a festive atmosphere, displaying his characters’ initial reactions to the sound of ‘soldiers marching’, and skilfully increasing the suspense of the audience, which knows no more about the Tigers than do those on stage. From the opening of the Act, with its barely perceptible march beat, there is a growth in intensity in which music and drama interact. Only momentarily is the onward thrust interrupted during the ladies’ first appearance (fig 102, 6) (in the broadcast this section was taken slightly slower), rhythms become more feverish, and volume increases steadily. Alongside this a quickening of the dramatic tempo takes place. As Scene 1 unfolds, progressively greater numbers of characters appear, building towards Scene 2, in which only the Tigers are absent. The inquiries about the approaching troops continue to heighten anticipation. Any more of this and their arrival would lose its effect: they enter at exactly the right moment.

This appearance of the eponymous regiment fifty minutes into the opera is a dramatic semi-colon. The entire act has led towards this event, and the audience will confidently be expecting the main activity to follow. It is fitting, therefore that the Tigers should be given the decisive Ex 25 on their entrance. In fact Ex 25, far from being a fresh theme, owes both melody and bass to Ex 21(c). In its turn Ex 2l(c), with its retrograde and a few derivatives, forms the basis of the following passage; the clergymen’s eulogies on the Tigers’ fierceness, for example, are founded on its original form. But Ex 25 itself dissolves within three bars, its demise prompted by a semitonal rise in the bass (cf Exx 22, 22B) which becomes a characteristic means of generating tonal movement.

Ex 26 to be added

In dramatic terms, a point of repose has been reached: when the clergymen clarify the situation, announcing ‘They are the Tigers’ (fig 107, 1), smoother rhythms, legato molto e suave, immediately replace the jagged textures characterising the opening of the scene.

A measured stride, then, rather than a forced march. This and a firmer tonal stability give the music a greater sense of purpose as it moves towards a further climax. Brian’s use of Exx 21(c) and 25(a) as alternate ostinati from fig 107,2 to fig 110,4 — with one two-bar gap — certainly helps one’s newly reawakened sense of tonal direction.

The methods employed to give the most wayward-seeming harmonic surprises an air of logicality repay study. For the first chorus praising the Tigers (commencing fig 107,3), a tonic-dominant pedal, C-G, is laid down. The ostinato, in this case Ex 21(c), adds F and D. Against this, Section III has an upward-thrusting figure in fifths (cf Ex 25), and Sections I and II build up a dissonant chord containing also the note A. The only notes in diatonic C major now missing are E and B. These duly appear just before the upward-thrusting figure reaches E itself, whereupon the C-G pedal moves up to E-B. E minor? No problem!

This having become B major, a solitary policeman illustrates Brian a sense of the absurd (Ex 26). Vocal rhythms are once again rigid and staccato, as the clergymen, imitated by the rest, sing:

Let us give them a reception
Full of joy and admiration.
Such fine men are well deserving
All our praise and adulation.

At this point (fig 109), the music seems to be settling into C#, but Brian refuses to maintain his tonal centre for long, increasing tension by simply moving his bass ostinati. A block move from Bb minor to Cb seems to mark the climax, with the word ‘Tigers’ resounding from all sides, but Brian is holding something in reserve. The bass ascends another semitone, and a bar later, unable to withstand the competition, as it were, the harmony above wrenches itself into C, reinforced thunderously by drums and cymbals.

The Tigers’ Colonel addresses his recruits, who are given a rousing send-off by the crowd.

Our first sight of the Colonel seems to signal the abandonment of C. Everybody remarks breathlessly what a fine man he is, being joined by the first appearance of Ex 21(a) since the beginning of the act, and coming to rest on an open fifth on E. This is brushed aside by Ex 27, which consists of two distinct parts. The Lento molto bar appears whenever the Colonel is saluted, with only changes in instrumentation, one of the very few cases of such repetition. It juxtaposes elements of E and C, which featured heavily in the preceding pages, and confronted each other in Scene 2 of the Prologue. The characteristic semitonal shift from B to C minor — the bass reverses the ascending tritone of the previous bars — is echoed in the Allegro molto’s second bar. Ex 21(c) reappears in another context, and the first notes of the Allegro are the same three that began the act (fig 96).

Ex 27 to be added

The Seargeant Major barks some commands on C#, attended by brusque descending scales. Then the Colonel comes to the fore (Ex 27(a)), along with an orchestral vignette portraying various aspects of his character (Ex 28).

Ex 28 to be added

Relaxed benignity (the heart-easing major seventh of (a), underpinned by Ex 27(b), again with that step, from G to G# minor) gives way abruptly to military rectitude. Ex 28(b) in its turn gives rise to the Jove-like (c), which slyly evokes the opening of Beethoven’s ninth symphony.

Ex 29 to be added

This impressive throat-clearing leads rather bathetically to Ex 29, whose opening might have been construed by Dr Gradus ad Parnassum thus:

add example

It quickly becomes evident that, whatever his virtues, the Colonel is no General Patton 1.

Ex 29 establishes the aria’s salient melodic intervals - perfect fifth and major third, as in (a) - and its dominant rhythms, as in the orchestral figurations accompanying (c), themselves based on Ex 28(b). (a) combines with diatonic G major chords to produce an impression of bland indulgence. (b), itself a transformation of part of (a), creates a solemn mood, handy when patriotic sentiments are being invoked. The actual words ‘military bearing’ are ironically set to Ex 27(b), and to the chord progressions associated with ‘Stand easy!’ in Ex 28. Even the insignificant-sounding augmented octave figure following this attains some importance later in connection with the ‘great things’ the Tigers are to achieve.

I have analysed these few bars in detail to illustrate Brian’s readiness to compose something with no spare flesh, where everything has a musical point to make. The following passage consists of two sentences (Figs 114 and 115) which say the same thing in different ways, condensing the themes of patriotism and hard work. Both end with an extended version of Ex 29(b), but the main material differs. Fig 114 is based largely on Exx 29(a’) and 28(b), while at fig 115, Ex 28(a) is again used ironically (emphasised by extension to four bars) to accompany ‘Yours will be an arduous life’. The continuation of this is shown as Ex 30. The three-fold repetition (here with Ex 29(a’)) is a rhetorical device to which the Colonel frequently has all-too-literal recourse.

Add ex 30

The pompous, orotund nature of his address is satirised in various ways. His ‘I greet you!’ (‘Ave!’), sung to Ex 29(c), precedes a soft D minor chord which, together with another statement of Ex 29(b), contrives to produce an appropriate ambience for the Colonel’s fatherly concern. (‘Many of you have left wives weeping. Whilst some wives may be glad you have left.’)

This passage (fig 116,2) begins a central section, in which the Colonel’s "tough but tender" approach is employed to counter the Tigers’ human frailties. (‘Shun a perambulator as though it were a devil. You never know who may be there behind it.’) Uneasy sequences of augmented chords, Ex 29(a’) and a reductio ad absurdum of Ex 29(b) and its inversion indicate his horse’s restlessness.

Next comes a statement about the battalion’s ‘tradition and dignity’ very like Ex 30, and incorporating inversions of Ex 29(a’). The textbook Bb, the two bars of ‘preparation’, the predictable sequences, exemplify the satirical process. The following section, in which thirds major and minor assert growing dominance, and clarinet and piccolo speak giddily of the dangers behind perambulators, (all being derived ultimately from Ex 29), forms an amusing contrast.

The peroration, a reprise of part of Exx 28 and 29, interests as much for what Brian leaves out as for what he includes. There is no place for the benign Ex 28(a), and 29(b), of which we have heard enough, is replaced by an orchestral imitation of 29(a). With the sentiment that virtue brings its own reward, the speech thus comes to an unexpectedly concise conclusion. The orchestra displays enthusiasm by brandishing Ex 29(c) thrice, in different keys.

This is the cue for applause from the onlookers. They flatter the Colonel with great show of sincerity (Ex 31; cf Ex 29(a)).

Add ex 31

Distorted scraps of themes from his address and from Scene 1 are soon being tossed among the assembled forces in a polyphonic cascade - the tucket from the beginning of the Act (125 [circled] 6), Ex 29(c) two bars later, versions of Ex 29(b) (fig 126), and of Ex 28(b) too many to enumerate. Choral imitation is exploited for comic effect. Commencing on G, tonality fluctuates until the soldiers demonstrate that they share the general opinion of their merits, in a series of perfect cadences on E (Ex 32). These echo the orchestral cadence to the complacent Ex 29(a). Everybody blesses the Tigers and their Colonel, with references to Ex 29(a) and (c), and closing massively on C#. This is immediately deflated by pizzicato strings announcing Ex 32(a) in G, followed by an Eb wind chord as in Ex 29. Against this the Colonel dismisses his troops; whereupon the entire forces enter, on C, for a last mighty cheer.

Add ex 32

NL74 / © Adrian Ure 1987

  1. In a letter published shortly after the 1983 broadcast, Larry Alexander wrote that the Colonel’s Act One speech seemed to ‘cry out’ for the kind of ‘real acid’ found in the famous opening address in the film Patton – ‘Let some other sonofabitch die for his country!’. He may well be right; but such an approach would have entailed a sea change in the balance of the opera. The point of the address as it stands is that it consists entirely of platitudes. ↩︎

Newsletter, NL 74, 1987