Rhapsody for Orchestra

Roger Sessions

Publisher: Merion Music, Inc.
Print Status: Rental

Quick Overview

The title implies for me a work of essentially lyrical and quasi-improvisatory character, in which strong contrasts appear on a relatively small scale. This piece was written immediately after the completion of a large Cantata which is a setting of Walt Whitman?s When Lilacs last in the Dooryard Bloom?d, and it represents for me a reaction after my intense involvement in that work. For over two years I had been not only profoundly stirred by the poem itself, but much affected by the elegiac mood which represents. As I have sometimes felt on other similar occasions, I found myself impelled to free myself of its lingering influence and to write, relatively quickly, something very different in character.

The listener will readily identify three sections ? fast, slow, and fast ? followed by an epilogue-like recitative. The initial rhythmic idea, together with variants derived from it, forms the background of the whole first section of the piece (Allegro). Its recurrences, in various registers, punctuate its various episodes. The first of these is a broad phrase on the violins and woodwinds, in the high register; the second, a gentler phrase in the oboe, answered by the bassoon and clarinet. After a climax in the full orchestra comes a contrasting episode (introduced by trombones, over an insistent staccato figure in the bassoons) and then a still larger climax. When that has subsided, the two ideas of the opening are briefly recalled in a more fragmentary form than before. (It should perhaps be noted that in this, as in my other works of the last twenty years, there are almost no literal repetitions; but clear associative connections are established by other means.)

A long rallentando, ending in a brief pause, leads to the Andante e molto espressivo (begun by a long phrase in the muted violins). The movement becomes more animated, and leads to a passage whose fast triplets and irregularly spaced chords in the winds distantly recall the rhythmic opening of the work. A long-phrased melody in the oboe, in somewhat faster tempo, later joined by a descending tremolo in muted violins, leads back to a brief resumption of the Andante movement.

The third section, Molto vivace e giocoso, introduces ideas of a livelier character, built up of short motifs and quick instrumental changes. After a contrasting passage (begun by two trombones in unison, and leading to a fortissimo in the full orchestra) the short motifs of the opening return with the 2/4 measures of the beginning now compressed into a prevailing 3/8 time. This is concluded by a rapid descent through six octaves, to the lowest E of the orchestra. Five chords, of very varied character and length, prepare the way for the final Recitative, which begins on a trombone, and passes to cello, viola and violin and turn. It is accompanied by contrasting groups of wind instruments, and is three times interrupted by short passages of varying character. The work ends with a brief reminder of its opening idea.

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Additional Information

Composition Date 1966-70
Duration 00:09:00
Orchestration 3 3 4 3 - 4 3 3 1; Timp. Perc. Hp. Str.