Investigating The Tigers (8) Uneasy slumbers : Act 2, scene 1

Adrian Ure

Part 8 : Uneasy slumbers : Act 2, scene 1 - Adrian Ure Apologies for the absence of music examples - these will be added as soon as possible - JRM

This is the land of ghosts, of sleep and somnolent night

This scene confronts us inescapably with the fact, even to a casual listener, there are basic stylistic inconsistencies in The Tigers. The sound-world of much of Prologue Scene 1, for example, is reassuringly familiar, with its easily traced melodic shapes, nicely rounded phrases and logical progressions. The same is true of Act 1 Scene 1, though that has a more overtly parodic element.

In contrast, the Pantalon-Columbine love duet is a patchwork of melodic scraps and elusive harmonies. Its five sections exhibit firm structural control, to be sure, but the only overarching formal device is the element of reprise in the final section. (It is significant that the appearance of Has anybody here seen Kelly? coincides with the first serious attempts at loosening of harmonic bonds. The extended use of this theme seems to invite the utmost freedom in treating it, and it acts almost as a catalyst affecting Brian’s practice in later stages of the opera.)

This dichotomy, so threatening to the potentially fragile unity of The Tigers, is to persist throughout. Why should this be so? One clue may be that the periods of greatest formal organization seem to occur when Brian is at his most satirical. The beginnings of the Prologue and Act 1 subvert the external presentations of the characters and their attitudes. Similarly, the elements of da capo aria in the Colonel’s address neatly mirror the "received", unspontaneous aspects of such speeches and thus help to satirise his intentions at this point.

From a quick glance at the opening bars of Ex ii Scene 1 (Ex 33) it is apparent that it is more fragmented than anything encountered so far. Even the Pantalon-Columbine duet had fewer violent changes of pace, mood and instrumentation. Moreover, the breaks in continuity receive greater emphasis here, there being no words or exterior action; also because a greater intensity of emotion is present.

A nother notable aspect of the music is its total lack of commitment to any key: and we find that this is largely a result of almost continuous use of the augmented triad (I have marked a few examples). It is by turns tonally ambiguous (fig 129), with alternating augmented fifths, and virtually atonal.

Again the Scene begins with ex 1(a), slightly altered to emphasize a rhythm which is exploited throughout. Ex 33(c), with which there is greater concern, is another theme susceptible to constant development in a manner foreshadowing Brian’s practice as a symphonist. Its second statement, directly after the troubled martial echoes in the last bar of ex 33, is already subtly changed, setting up tension between augmented triads of F and Eb, first successively, then combined (Allegro misterioso). Ex 33(f) develops a weird, independent existence. A quick descent into the depths, and five widely-spaced notes on the tuba, introduce the spectre of ex 29(a), supported by ex 33(a). This, insistent as the terror of dreams, refuses to resolve. On its second appearance, in combination with a reminiscence of ex28(b), its cadence is extended downwards thus:

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which gives birth to all kinds of misshapen offspring, among them ex 33(f) and its inversion, culminating in a restatement of of Ex 29(c). This music is thus formed of a constantly unfolding series of melodic shapes, evolving and changing their outlines at bewildering speed, but incorporating perfectly recognisable themes such as Ex 30 (Fig 132, 2). The Colonel’s speech in Act 1 has evidently had a hefty impact on his subconscious (perhaps because he has repeated its commonplace sentiments so often). For surely one would be justified in assuming that the rapidly shifting, kaleidoscopic patterns of this music reflect the Colonel’s dreams? Throughout, the orchestration has an appropriately hollow, spectral quality.

The allusions to ex 29 having worked themselves out, the tempo slows for a treatment of ex 33(f), à la barcarolle. It is a beautiful moment, but a troubled one; the mellifluous 3rds of the melody line are underpinned by an augmented-fifth pedal (outlining Ex 33(a)). Its climactic point is a painful dissonance, from which the music sinks, seemingly exhausted, adumbrating the first three notes of (f) in dotted crotchets.

Frequently in The Tigers Brian returns to a ternary form, in which the opening material is repeated more or less exactly. Here the reprise ‘justifies’ itself subliminally, in that ex 33(a) in the bass leads quite naturally to the full statement of ex 33 itself. Besides enabling us to recover our bearings, it suggests the way certain key ideas recur in dreams. Here, however, it leads in startlingly new directions, in which the subsidiaries of (c) are pulled into strange and menacing shapes. Out of these emerges an unfamiliar figure (though one based on ex 33(f)) (ex 34).

The ‘skipping’ rhythm in bar 1 of ex 34(c) - nicely balanced by its varied imitation a minor sixth lower - comes to dominate the next section, Lento espressivo. Both the rhythm and the encircled notes are highlighted, and combined with ex 33(c). The emphasis on bass patterns in this passage suggests still deeper psychological undercurrents

At this point Brian externalises the situation to a certain extent by bringing on stage three of the characters of the Colonel’s dreams. Although this gambit does illuminate several of the commander’s attitudes, it is not a total success.

The passage dealing with the first of these visitants from a dream world - or "shades" as they are called on the cast list, pointing to a darker purpose - illustrates partly why this is so. A ‘Red Indian in full war dress’ portentously predicts a meeting ‘later in the happy hunting ground’. (A hilariously ironic turn of phrase, as events prove!) He is ushered on and off with a vigorous warlike figure (ex 35). It seems unrelated to anything else, and effectively isolates the Red Indian’s appearance, brief though that be, as a self-contained episode. This tends to be the procedure from now on. The sentiments the apparitions themselves utter are gnomic, yet by no means irrational; and this, together with the forcing of our imaginations along predetermined paths, dissipates the dreamlike atmosphere rather than adding to it.

The need to concentrate on one object also drastically affects the pace and scope of symphonic development. (Brian partially compensates by having the shades appear for progressively longer periods.) The longer episodes are content with exploring the aural possibilities of arranging various kinds of fourths vertically and horizontally. There is especial emphasis on the augmented fourth, heard prominently at the entrance of Alexander the Great (ex 36), along with a version of ex 33(d) that is trying to be the ‘Fate’ theme from Tristan und Isolde. Out of the reiterated ex 33(d) comes forth Alexander’s main vocal line (fig 143, 1), and the bass counterpoint to a misterioso Boris-like passage a little later.

Incorporating the augmented fourth into ex 33(a) introduces the possibility of augmented octaves and minor seconds, and enables chromatic progressions in both directions (ex 37(a)). Ex 37 brings in Napoleon, its quirky angularity demonstrating little of Brian’s professed admiration for that general 2. Exx 37 and 38 can be broken neatly into components which recur throughout Napoleon’s time on stage, the whole of which is pervaded by the 4th in all its aspects.

So far these intruders have limited themselves to portentous but vague statements. Napoleon is more specific. ‘Tomorrow is the great event, I shall be fighting by your side’, he tells Sir John. In the orchestra elements of exx 37 and 38 crowd forward (except 37(b) which stays behind to bid Napoleon goodbye). Brian’s irony is powerfully at work, Napoleon can urge the Colonel into battle as he points out the futility of war: using his own nation as an example he remarks that today’s enemies are tomorrow’s friends (fig 146, 8). ‘It is only human nature’ (ex 39).

The dream figures contribute to the narrative structure, by setting up situations ripe with possibilities for deflation. Sir John Stout - and by extension the First World War officer class? - is made ridiculous and inadequate by comparison with the great military leaders of history. But the ironies are deeper than that, for the portraits of the warriors that we see are evidently affected by the Colonel’s conception of them. Thus Napoleon evidently has considerable respect for the latter as a commander. He ‘rubs his eyes’ — a felicitous turn of phrase in context — at the sight of Sir John the brewer replacing his malt stick with a sword. It makes him ‘long that I again might be a leader amongst men’ (ex 39). A fine psychological touch is the inclusion of a distortion of ex 29(a) in the vocal lines of all three shades. In his dreaming mind the Colonel is clearly their equal.

The final apparition is Lady Stout. Dressed in black, she ‘points to the bed as though warning him’; but she fulfills an altogether different function from that of prophet of doom. This is sufficiently indicated by his response to her greeting — ‘Oh! my god!’

After establishing her credentials as faithful housewife, she reminds Sir John of two things: he is an old man and, because of this, he should avoid ‘gallivanting’ with ‘the ladies’. She keeps this up for four pages. What saves us from sharing Sir John’s exasperated reaction is the skilfulness of Brian’s characterisation. This is expressed primarily through chattering triplets. Initially on one note, these later evolve into something like the whirling dervish music accompanying the Colonel’s own denunciation of sexual goings-on (fig 121, 6 etc).

Speaking of which, the accompaniment to the line ‘Your great age shall save you from the ladies’, surely hints at Sir John’s apostrophe to ‘the tradition and dignity of this ancient battalion’ (cf fig 118, 9 with fig 158, 1). Thus the break in mood with the coming of Lady Stout is apparent, not real. Her husband is simply recalling a different part of his peroration to the troops. We may perhaps speculate that her appearance is prompted by his guilt at hypocrisy on his part.

Throughout the whole episode, exx 37(a), 38(a) and 39 obtrude as if reminding the colonel of the gulf between his ambitions and talk of ‘underthings’. At her most indulgent Lady Stout has a ‘non-cadence’ (ex 40), which, of course, disguises ex 37(a) again.

On an augmented 5th from the bass she fades away (surely literally, having said "Farewell!", although no exit is indicated in the vocal score 3). A brusque call to attention (ex 41) precedes a roll-call of the more significant ‘dream themes’— ex 29(a) with a skittish, augmented-triad accompaniment, a mysterious ex 33(c), ex 37(a) and ex 41, this time recalling the augmented fourths — summarising the colonel’s confused thoughts. A decisive, martial theme sounds as if it might lead somewhere different. Instead, after another version of Ex 41, Ex 37(a) with the skittish accompaniment, and an urgent tattoo-like figure, the curtain intervenes, to the sound of a fortissimo unison signing-off.

The Tigers and Les Troyens - an additional note

Malcolm MacDonald remarks, "Les Troyens must certainly form part of the ancestry of The Tigers"[^4]. It seems to me that we can point to a very specific influence at this point in the opera. Shades of dead heroes appear twice in the course of Les Troyens. In the fifth act, four of them enjoin Aeneas to leave Carthage and found the Roman empire. This may have given Brian the general idea of bringing four characters on stage to address the Colonel in his sleep, and urge him to deeds of valour. The more interesting case is in Act 2 of the Berlioz work, when the sleeping Aeneas is visited by the shade of Hector. Here the parallels are too insistent to be ignored, established as much by parody as by exact parallel. (Alexander’s music bears a certain similarity to Hector’s, too.) An irony is that Hector comes to bring tidings of doom, not victory. (At this point Act Two of Les Troyens had not been presented anywhere on a British stage, although Sir Frederick Cowen conducted concert performances of it in Manchester in the 1890s which Brian may have seen.)

Another probable influence would have been more familiar to an audience of the time - Act Five of Richard III and Richard’s dream before the Battle of Bosworth Field; a line such as "Let me sit heavy on thy soul tomorrow" greatly resembles the diction of Brian’s ghostly commanders.

NL79 revised / © Adrian Ure 1999

  1. ‘Apologetio’, on p1 of the published vocal score. ↩︎

  2. The MS full score proposes a different solution, but an ambiguity remains. Directly after Lady Stout’s last line - ie at 162, 8 - Brian has written "Curtain". However, "Curtain" is also written at fig 165 (as in the vocal score), not indubitably in Brian’s hand, but in the same green ink used by him for corrections elsewhere. I am not sure what to make of this. Perhaps Brian simply could not decide where he wanted the curtain to come down, and forgot, ultimately, to cancel one of the directions. ↩︎

Newsletter, NL 79, 1999