Contextures II: The Final Beast

for Soprano and Tenor Soloists, Boys Choir, Old Music Group and Large Orchestra

William Kraft

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Publisher: Theodore Presser Company
Print Status: Rental

Quick Overview

"Contextures: Riots Decade ?60" (premiered by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Zubin Mehta conducting and recorded by them for London Records), had as its extramusical concern the riots that were occurring at the time of its composition. Two short abstract films were interpolated to help articulate that concern. "Contextures II: The Final Beast" has warfare, not an unrelated concern, as its extra-musical basis. This time texts are incorporated to help articulate its meaning. These texts encompass nearly 3003 years, from Homer (c. 9th century B.C.) to Wilfred Owen (1893-1918).

The ideal performance would include both works, and for that reason, "Contextures II" in its isolated performance begins with the last 11 measures of "Contextures: Riots Decade ?60". "Contextures II", itself begins with the entrance of the boys? choir singing a setting of "The Garden" taken from the collection of children?s drawings and poems from the Terezin concentration camp, 1942, 1944, titled "?I never saw another butterfly". Frantisek Bass, the author (who signed the poem Franta Bass) was born in Brno (Czechoslovakia) on September 4, 1930, sent to Terezin December 2, 1942, and died in Auschwitz October 28, 1944.

Two sharp attacks from the orchestra break the quiet setting of the tenor declaiming lines from "The Iliad" denouncing the man who would lead his country men into war. This turn sets off the orchestra into a very fast and very loud section. The already large percussion is amplified by many hand bells played by the boys? choir. ? first as sheer sound effect, but then as a transition to Psalm 146 sung by an alto soloist from the choir accompanied by a chamber ensemble including a hurdy-gurdy and a viola da gamba. This section ends when the entire choir sings a short excerpt from Matthew 5:9, ?Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.?

The tenor takes up the prophetic "The End of the World" from Jeremiah 4:19-26 accompanied by alto flute, horn, seven graduated drums (one player), four handed vibraphone, marimba, piano, harp and strings. This is climaxed by a return of the full orchestra and boys? choir in a brief episode reminiscent of the earlier Greek section only to be abruptly cut off by the old music group introducing the soprano singing, as a counter-tenor the "Palestein Song" by the Austrian (or Swiss) lyric poet, minnesinger and composer Walther von der Vogelweide (c.1165- c.1230). While Jeremiah has been saying "?the whole land is laid waste,? Vogelweide says that while each of the three adversaries, ?Christians, Jews and heathen,? invoke their particular concept of God, ?we have the just claim: It is right that he should acknowledge us.?

Longfellow (1807-1882) voices his concern on viewing "The Arsenal at Springfield": ?Ah, what a sound will rise, how wild and dreary, when the death-angel touches those swift keys? ? the opening lines sung by the choir, the following lines taken by the soprano who carries through into John Scott?s (1730-1783) "I Hate That Drum?s Discordant Sound."

A collage is created by the layering of the old music group which persists independently with the galliard "Can She Excuse" by John Dowland (1563-1626). The purpose of this dance music thrust against the contrasting music of the orchestra, as with the jazz group in "Contexture: Riots Decade ?60" is to exemplify how the bulk of society tends to go on with its fun and entertainment seemingly oblivious to the dangers that threaten its very existence.

The final poem, "Insensibility", is by the British poet Wilfred Owen, who, as a soldier in the British army during World War I, was tragically killed one week before the Armstice was declared. This is sung by the tenor, who is joined by the soprano. Later, as a backdrop, the choir layers in an ostinato with the constant repetition of the three words, ?A little boy.? The old music drifts away, the horn has a brief expressive solo and then the orchestra drifts away.

The bulk of the text can be found in Scott Bates? excellent collection "Poems of War Resistance" (Grossman Publishers, New York, 1969). "Contextures II: The Final Beast" is dedicated to the victims of all wars.

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Additional Information

Composition Date 1986
Duration 00:31:00
Orchestration Full Orchestra version: 4(2Picc./A.Fl.) 4(E.H.) 4(EbCl./B.Cl.) 4(Cbsn.) - 4 4 4(B.Tbn./opt. Bar.) 1 - Timp. 6Perc. Pno. Hp. Str.
Premiere April 2, 1984. Los Angeles Philharmonic, composer conducting; Los Angeles, CA.

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