Part 9 : On parade : Act 2, scene 2 - Adrian Ure Apologies for the absence of music examples - these will be added as soon as possible - JRM
In dreary, doubtful waiting hours,
Before the brazen frenzy starts. 1
The following morning. The Colonel is just in time to deliver a pep-talk to his troops before they engage in mock battle with another regiment.
Scene 2 is set in a military parade ground with woodland scenery on either side. The music returns us, startlingly, to diatonic norms, with a glowing E major triad (Ex 42).
[example to be added]
This is immediately contradicted by a triad of D major, in a lower register. To snarl things up even more, there is suggestion of F# major at the end of ex 42. In practice, the long-held Es on the violins, and the emphasis on E on the strong beat of every bar, tend to ensure that these are but momentary distractions, taking on the character of modal inflections 2.
[example to be added]
Ex 42 is followed by what amounts to a free variation on it. This, at least, is unequivocal E major, its D#s clashing attractively with the continuing D naturals in the accompaniment (166,4), In its turn, this is joined by a counterpoint ((b) in ex 43). which uses figure y to proclaim its kinship with ex 42.
A s the interlude unfolds, Brian heightens anticipation of the scene ahead by shortening phrase lengths and changing keys. G comes with a strangely bright effect. A six bar version of ex 43(a) precedes a four bar phrase in F, in which the emphatic initial notes of (b) join forces with y for an impressive imitative passage on the brass, while semiquavers chatter away on top. Nothing so troublesome as a modulation anywhere, but the flattened leading note in the ostinato eases the passage from key to key.
The distinct family resemblance between the material here and that heard at the very outset of the opera does not seem to be pointing up anything more significant than a similarity of mood. But it coincides with a return to a critical formal device used later in the first scene of the Prologue — the series of variations — and soon rhythmic reminders of Has anybody here seen Kelly? appear.
Another abrupt move brings the music back to E, continuing the variations of ex 43(a) in two bar phrases. Its first three notes are sequentially extended to form a descending chain, then it adopts the guise of an unruffled bass. (Its purpose served — Brian wishes to remain unambiguously in E for some time — the ostinato has been dispensed with unceremoniously.) The last variation adapts the chain pattern to incorporate y. Throughout, the music has been seamless, the technique far from obtrusive.
The tower clock marks the climax by tolling nine, whereupon the curtain rises on the Tigers’ parade ground bathed in summer sunlight, and the Colonel just making his appearance (with a hurried ‘Sorry I’m late boys’). The orchestra greets him with a curt nod towards Ex 43(a), another variant of which punctuates his adjutant’s rather frenetic square-bashing. Finally, after a repeat of the introductory music, comes the Jove-like ‘Beethoven’s ninth’ figure (ex 28(c)), summoning the Colonel forward in all his dignity.
The unusual direction Lento quieto indicates the atmosphere underlying and permeating the Colonel’s second address. Its nature is delineated by the bare handful of notes which, for the most part, it encompasses. In fact, it consists mainly of variants of ex 44, itself a distorted echo of a principal motif in the Colonel’s previous speech (ex 29(a)). (The rising and falling third is common to both, as are the span of a fifth, and the rhythm at the end of the phrase.) The variety and colour of the orchestral contribution more than make up for this apparent limitation. Brian’s pointilliste techniques mischievously conjure up the lazy and irreverent thoughts of healthy young men being lectured to on a hot summer’s day.
[example to be added]
Technically speaking, the result is a rondo, a mundane description which fails utterly to convey the subtlety of the structure. Underpinning the dense chromaticism, which comes with a considerable jolt after the preceding section, is a concern with fourths and fifths, most frequently manifested indeed in the form of open fifths. This is one unifying factor. Another is the Colonel’s limited musical vocabulary here, and his characteristic repetition of certain phrases (four times in succession from fig 172,5). A third is the resourceful use of subsidiary ideas, such as ex 45, an apt description of ‘the famous Hornets’ who are to provide the opposition later that day. (After Alexander and Napoleon in the first scene, we seem to have reached new depths of bathos.)
[example to be added]
The music’s formal organization reflects to a certain extent the outlines of the Colonel’s speech. Section A (Ex 44) provides an opportunity for complacent reflection, whilst B and C are more active, involving respectively a reminder of the coming military exercise (the first direct intimation the audience has had of it), and some (very) basic tactical advice.
Section C, più molto, is introduced by sleight of hand. After the reappearance of ex 44(a), an open fifth again appears in the upper strings, but instead of the expected follow-up, a distorted ex 33(d) crashes in in the bass, closely pursued by ex 37(a) against an augmented triad accompaniment. This is an obvious counterpoint to the Colonel’s ‘If my dreams come true I am sure we shall win’ — a phrase in which, significantly, he breaks out of his musical straitjacket for a moment, rising to a high Gb on the word ‘win’. Ex.37(a) has been foreshadowed when the battle was first mentioned (fig 172,3), and is repeated, besides cousins of exx 45 and 44(b), with the Colonel’s exhortation to ‘pay attention to your NCOs’ (fig 174,7). Considering its association with Napoleon, ex 37(a) would seem to be bound up with Sir John’s ambitions for his troops on the battlefield.
The Colonel’s professed bewilderment at the Hornets’ wearing trousers is expressed in forlorn open fifth chords, and leads him to adopt a ‘half humorous’ tone. This does not seem to suit him, for it is unharmonised and soon peters out (though not so quickly in the orchestral as in the vocal score, which unaccountably omits a bar of semiquavers).
Once more, Sir John finishes with a cliche. As always, Brian suggests musical platitude only to avoid it, by extending the first part of Ex 44 and altering (a) so that the address comes to an end on a "wrong note". The extension does reduce the force of another light but surely intentional joke, which lies in the juxtaposition of the Colonel’s last sentences: ‘Pay attention to your NCOs. The fate of the battle may hang on the slenderest thread…’
The Colonel has now had his say, and the final descending arpeggio of ex 44 is brusquely brushed aside by ex 28(c) on its usual key of B. This is repeated twice, as if trying to make headway against the Officer’s persistent C sharps; but it is he who has the last word. (This character, who never reappears, may in fact be identical to the Sergeant Major.)
The curtain descends on a return of ex 42, a not surprising development in view of the overall tendency towards symmetry displayed by this scene. (Oddly enough, it definitely starts on F# this time, although the E major of the first bars suffers nothing of its previous identity crisis.) But this soon transmogrifies itself, unexpectedly but effortlessly, into Yankee Doodle, with the same disquieting effect as the White Queen becoming a sheep.
The ostinato of E and D major triads has continued as before, and the bitonal implications of the previous interlude are now worked out more fully in a confrontation between the two familiar keys. Yankee Doodle in C is set against E major remnants of ex 42, and — totally out of the blue — Home Sweet Home. (For the ultra-ingenious there is a distant intervallic relationship between this and Ex 42.) The joke here, of course, is that for obvious reasons members of the Forces were forbidden to refer to this tune.
Now the first eight bars (fig 176,4 to 177,1) are repeated, with treble and bass reversed, in C. The confrontation with this key seems to have robbed ex 42 of its initial confidence. Instead of the steady, apparently purposeful movement from key to key of the previous interlude, the music starts disintegrating into one bar fragments (including a stuttering figure involving y). Then the bass outlines a bare sequence of fifths. All the while the two chord ostinato remains, as does the held E in the strings, but both are gradually overlaid by phantasmal sounds in percussion and wind. It is as if the placid waters of the original pastorale have been poked about to reveal a more disturbing stratum underneath. When the music at last sinks back on to E for the last full reference to Ex 42, coupled with the now familiar Yankee Doodle, it sounds on a lone horn with a bleakness which another jokey interpolation in C does nothing to assuage. The stuttering figure grumbles briefly in the bass, before ex 42 dies away inconclusively on an F#.
A gain Brian is using familiar formal patterns to satirise a social situation, in this case the stiff, conventional format of the military parade. Indeed, the ‘perverted’ symmetry of the musical plan sets up a fairly precise equivalent to the stage picture. Section B of Sir John’s aria could arguably be seen as part of the main section, with the more substantial section C as central episode of a ternary form (cf Act 1, Scene 2) around which the surrounding music groups itself, creating a larger three-part plan.
In the second interlude, as we have seen, the hegemony of E major is challenged and subverted by C. Part of the effectiveness of this procedure may lie in C’s close relationship to G and F, which infiltrate the first interlude ‘harmlessly’ like advance spies in the enemy camp. The influence of the ‘C—F’ nexus appears to extend elsewhere. The ‘square-bashing’ music sandwiched between aria and interludes has inflections of D minor. The initial accompaniment figure of ex 44 suggests E# (ie F) minor. The flourish at the end of Sir John’s first phrase is on G, whilst his ‘Don’t he afraid of them’ starts out on this key and moves to C.
Something similar can be found in the Colonel’s Act One aria, which holds fast toward G and B flat key centres, and touches on E once at the end, only to shy off it again.
NL84 revised / © Adrian Ure 1999
Julian Grenfell, Into battle. ↩︎
Tonal ambiguity is more pronounced in the vocal score, which commences the melody of ex 42 on an F#. The vocal score also crucially affects the phrase structure by leaving out the first bar of the melody altogether. This brings the first (five bar) period into line with the following two, rather than balancing it with the fourth (fig 167,2) in the pattern 6-5-5-6. Ex 42 represents the version in the autograph full score. ↩︎
Newsletter, NL 84, 1999