Star Wars Fantasy: Four Impressions for Two Pianos
In 2006, The Juilliard School celebrated its centennial year, and among its many celebratory events, one concert was devoted to film music. Held in Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall and dubbed "Cinema Serenades," the concert featured the premieres of original works composed by six famed film scorers. Among the participants The Juilliard School commissioned: Howard Shore (The Lord of the Rings), Marc Shaiman (The Adams Family and Sleepless in Seattle), and Marvin Hamlisch (Sophie's Choice and The Way We Were). John Williams, a Juilliard alumnus, also agreed to compose a new piece, but he regretfully withdrew from the project just over a month before the event was to take place. The school still wanted to honor this titan of film music, and being in the right place at the right time, we (the Anderson & Roe Piano Duo) were asked-and more importantly, given the legal permission-to compose and perform a piece based on music from the Star Wars trilogies.
In composing our Star Wars Fantasy: Four Impressions for Two Pianos, we took motives from John Williams' iconic score and constructed an entirely new work. At times, we were reverent to our source material; at others, not so much. The first impression is loosely based on the cantina theme heard in "Episode IV: A New Hope." If you are very perceptive, you may notice other themes hidden within the texture of the music, such as the "force theme," Darth Vader and Yoda's themes, and various battle motives. The second impression is a quasi-minimalist, free-flowing treatment of the "force theme" heard throughout all six Star Wars films, while the third impression is a more literal arrangement of the "March of the Ewoks" from "Episode VI: Return of the Jedi." The fantasy concludes climactically with a final impression combining musical themes from all six movies into a toccata of dramatic cacophony.
Although we were strapped for time (we finished the composition on the day of the concert!), we had a blast creating this piece of music. Among our favorite memories: watching all six Star Wars films in three consecutive days while devouring pizza and Chinese food, discussing and debating musical ideas at the most unnatural hours of night, giving the adrenaline-charged premiere in front of a packed house, and of course, joyously revamping music we love into a creation all our own.
- Greg Anderson & Elizabeth Joy Roe
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Adagio in C for Armonica, K. 617
While visiting England in 1757, Benjamin Franklin attended a concert by a "wine glass organist." Charmed by the ethereal tones that the performer drew from the rims of the crystal goblets, the ever creative Franklin imagined a mechanical instrument that would allow for greater technical fluency and a full range of chord voicing. His resulting invention, the "armonica, " was later described by an Italian acquaintance, Alessandro Vietri:
"I have been to see the Newton of electricity, the famous Franklin. He is a man of over fifty years of age. You know that by pressing and sliding a moistened finger over the edge of a glass a sound is produced. He has made the instrument on this principle. He has strung on a spindle, or common axis, as many glass bells as correspond to the pegs of a harpsichord, proportionately graduated. The spindle turns by means of the left foot, with a wheel, as the knife grinder does. At the same time one touches with the fingers, as one does a harpsichord, the bells which spin like wheels, after having first wet them slightly with a sponge. A melody comes out which goes to the heart."
Franklin's musical invention became voguish during the 18th and 19th Centuries. European monarchs were captivated by the instrument, and major composers such as C.P.E. Bach, Gaetano Donizetti, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Camille Saint-Saëns contributed works to showcase its unique sonority. Mozart first encountered the instrument in the Vienna home of the famous German physician-astrologist Franz Mesmer, who incorporated its hallucinogenic strains into his displays of "Mesmerism."
The four-minute Adagio, composed at the same time as The Magic Flute, perfectly captures the angelic essence of the armonica. Spiritually akin to the dignified chorales and marches that Mozart wrote for the Priests of Isis and Osiris, the Adagio blends innocence and simplicity with an aura of mystery and timeless wisdom.
Camille Saint-Saëns - The Carnival of the Animals
Camille Saint-Saëns started life as one of history's most celebrated child prodigies. His extraordinary level of talent, temperament, and musical knowledge often invited positive comparisons with Felix Mendelssohn. Like Mendelssohn, Saint-Saëns composed fluently from his earliest years and became renowned while still a boy as one of the greatest pianists and organists of his day. As adults, both composers became known for their total musicianship, conservative tastes, classically refined sensibilities, and flawless compositional technique. And, like Mendelssohn, Saint-Saëns became a highly influential teacher and a well-educated polymath, whose extramusical interests ranged freely across such diverse fields as mathematics, botany, archaeology, poetry, literature, and astrology.
Unlike Mendelssohn, however, Camille Saint-Saëns lived long enough to see his musical oeuvre become obsolete. His 86 years spanned two completely different musical eras, beginning during the time of Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Brahms, and ending during the period of Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky and Gershwin. The older he became, the more stubbornly he clung to the music of the past. He grew impatient with forward-looking composers such as Jules Massenet, Claude Debussy, Richard Strauss, and Vincent D'Indy, and his increasing prickliness often drew critical fire.
Fortunately, his innate brilliance and sense of fun always attracted a devoted circle of friends and admirers. In 1886, while vacationing in a small Austrian village, he decided to amuse his friends by composing the delightful zoölogical fantasy The Carnival of the Animals. Although the piece was a hit with his colleagues, Saint-Saëns became concerned that it would be considered too frivolous by the public at large and might even harm his reputation as a "serious" composer. With the exception of the touching cello solo, The Swan, he allowed only private performances of The Carnival of the Animals during his lifetime. After his death in 1921, the piece was finally published, and it quickly became one of Saint-Saëns' most popular works.
Inside jokes abound, as Saint-Saëns often pokes fun at other composers by inserting sly, incongruous musical references into the various animals' portraits. The Tortoise, for instance, takes the frenetic, high kicking Can-Can from Jacques Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld and transforms it into a laggardly dirge. Similarly, The Elephant lumbers through ponderous versions of Hector Berlioz's delicate Dance of the Sylphs and Mendelssohn's gossamer Scherzo from A Midsummer Night's Dream. Nor is Saint-Saëns above poking fun at himself. In The Fossils he parodies his own maniacal waltz Danse Macabre, turning the original xylophone solo into a rackety, duple-meter skeleton dance. In the end, no one escapes entirely unscathed, least of all his critics, who are portrayed as asses in "People with Long Ears," and whom we hear braying away toward the end of the whirlwind Finale.
- Michael Parloff, 2009