Ritual Dance Scene for Orchestra

Dan Welcher

Performing Ensemble: Orchestra
Publisher: Elkan-Vogel, Inc.
Print Status: Rental

Quick Overview

Every composer ought to take at least one plunge into the late-Romantic/Impressionistic orchestral ocean, just to get the feel of a large ensemble playing long lines and expansive developments with the colors and techniques used by Strauss and Ravel. "Dervishes" is that plunge for me, and I have emerged from it still somewhat wet behind the ears. How can a composer today, with the hindsight of over sixty years (during which time the concepts of development, full instrumentation, and melodic counterpoint have undergone such radical surgery) overlook the contributions of Webern (in orchestration as well as composition) and the more recent innovators such as Penderecki and Crumb, and return to the formal cohesion and thematic recognition techniques of the past? In my case, the task was not so difficult, for I have long been slightly to the rear of my contemporaries as far innovation is concerned. But in the larger sense, I feel Dervishes to be a catharsis of a sort ? it is music that I have wanted to write for a long times, but until now have lacked the nerve to attempt. Not that the piece is nineteenth century in scope ? it follows Schoenberg?s twelve-tone technique almost to the letter. It is mainly in the formal outline, thematic continuity, and orchestration that I feel linked to earlier composers. One of the most felicitous developments in composition in recent years is a rediscovery of Romanticism, and many established composers (George Rochberg comes immediately to mind) who had made their fortunes (that word being a relative one for composers) in the avant-garde style have made a dramatic switch in style and are now finding child-like glee in their ?discovery? of key signatures, classic forms, and (shudder) melodies! To this renaissance I offer "Dervishes", which has no key signature; but which has a fairly discernable formal shape and enough thematic growth that the average listener who can chart his way through a Brahms symphony ought to have no trouble converting, as it were, from miles to kilometers.

The piece is in four sections, played without pause. It opens with a sweeping flourish, and immediately the main motive of the piece appears in a sequence of unison staccato notes. The English horn intones a theme of developmental importance, and the music of the flourish returns twice more with the resources of harp, timpani, and string glissandi adding to the sweeping motion. The second section begins in a nervous 5/8 figure played, ostinato, in the bassoons. The English horn?s theme returns, expanded, in the strings, and this entire section commences a hypnotic dancing quality that led me to the title of the piece. At the height of the dance the ostinato subsides and the flutes do a bit of recuperative wiggling which takes the music to an abrupt change of pace. The third section is suddenly much slower, but the ostinato character is maintained with recurring unison notes played by trombone, tuba, and timpani. The mood is one of static obsessiveness, which, despite two frantic interruptions in faster tempi, cannot be broken. The orchestra submits to the slower tempo in an extended statement of the principal theme in low brass and winds in the midst of an undulating texture of solo strings, percussion and double-bass glissandi. At length, the motion increases until the final section, a frenzied triple-meter dance, breaks out in the strings and woodwinds. The writing is at first fragmented, punctuated by silences, but eventually reaches a full orchestral statement as the religiously transported dancers whirl themselves into oblivion.

The work is dedicated to the Louisville Orchestra in celebration of its fortieth season, and to its music director, Jorge Mester.

Available on Rental

Scores & Parts

Dervishes - Full Score - Study
Dervishes - Full Score - Large

Additional Information

Composition Date 1977
Duration 11:00
Orchestration 3 3 3 3 - 4 3 3 1; Timp. 3Perc. Pno.(Cel.) Hp. Str.
Premiere 15th April 1977, Louisville Orchestra, Jorge Mester, conductor

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