Concerto Grosso No. 1 (1974)
- Alla Francese
Duration: 19 min.
Recording: Laurel LR-849
Premiere: 1975; Colorado PO; C. Topilow
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To my mind there are three great pinnacles of Western musical history: the mid Renaissance, the high baroque, and the late romantic. (A meteoric fourth peak, around 1600 and thereafter, when Gesualdo and Schütz flourished, is perhaps the most astonishing of all, but lacks the unity and continuity of the other three.) As each drew upon its own predecessors, so the 20th (and, I dare say, 21st) century composer can forge a style by adding his own personal idiom and attitude to any or all of these traditions, selectively employing components of our expanded modern palette of techniques, forms, textures, and atmospheres.
My fascinating with late baroque music is relatively recent and somewhat qualified. The principal appeal to me is the tremendous energy generated by rhythm and counterpoint in that style. At the same time, I have been disappointed by the predictability of the harmonic progressions in all but the most exceptional pieces of the period. Therefore, it was my plan in Concerto Grosso No. 1 to employ, perhaps even to intensify, the baroque rhythmic vigor, while using a more idiosyncratic choral language.
The first movement emulates the French overture design, complete with a majestic “dotted” opening and closing, and a main fugal allegro. The second movement features melodies in the winds against throbbing chords in the strings. (In accordance with tradition, the whole work uses winds and strings more as opposites than homogeneously.) The third movement is in 5/8 time and emphasizes the off-balance drive inherent in that meter, broadening out to 5/4 only for a climactic peroration. (Notes by Arnold Rosner)