Early American Scandals for Orchestra
I. Love - Revenge
II. River Styx
III. Vulture Hours
IV. Virginia’s Real Reel
Early American Scandals (2017) are four snapshots that look back to the turbulence, Revolution, slavery, Civil War and social unrest of the 18th and 19th centuries. Harbach has always been intrigued by this time period, and has written several compositions exploring the moods and pathos of that time, including Booth! an American Musical; Two Songs from the Sacred Harp for string orchestra; Frontier Fancies for violin and orchestra; Freedom Suite for string orchestra; Symphony No.3 “A State Divided”; Symphony No.8 “The Scarlet Letter”; Pioneer Women for soprano, clarinet and piano; Harriet’s Story for soprano, violin and piano; and Emanations of the Sacred Harp for cello and piano. Early American Scandals won the TUTTI orchestral composition prize and was premiered 7 March 2019 at Denison University in Granville, Ohio.
I. Love – Revenge uneasily evokes a happier time, with hints of conflict and revenge, as when “the master” makes unwanted advances toward a slave or when the love object chooses another. The movement has two themes. One is a subtly menacing waltz with descending half steps, often accompanied with flourishes in the upper strings; the other, a rising and descending melody that contains repeated notes, first enunciated by the bassoon, and later more forcefully by trumpet and trombone.
II. River Styx focuses around the choices we make – some are abhorrent and some fulfilling. The first of four themes is gently nostalgic, full of longing for a lost love or for one who has died. The desire to be reunited is strong, accompanied by a willingness to brave the River Styx to pass into hell to see the beloved one more time. Shortly after the introduction of the gentle opening motive, the River Styx theme provides a jolt of reality, with short dotted rhythms and powerful strident horn and brass iterations. A little later, the flute and clarinet introduce the third theme, Looking for an Angel. Imitation abounds in transitions as well as within these three themes. Emotions become more complex when the Angel theme, with flute and oboe in canon at the octave, combine with the River Styx on the clarinet. The last theme, introduced by trombone and imitated by trumpet, may represent a call before the Divine. In the final section, the three themes intermingle and intertwine, and conclude with the River Styx theme, reminding us that one doesn’t always get what one wants!
III. The Vulture Hours occur in the night when sleep does not come, and one’s mind tortures with thoughts of things done and not done. The past rears up like a winged phantom; cruel memory rips into the darkness with a terrifying shriek. Each dream becomes a nightmare when the vulture hours descend. The Vulture Hours was inspired by the horror John Wilkes Booth brought upon his family, never to be forgotten. The clarinet is heard in a short vorimitation before the bassoon introduces the first theme of ambiguous tonality and melancholy, and an ever-so-slight hint of tango. The clarinet joins the bassoon with another statement of the melody, while the flute and oboe join with a canon at the octave. The trombone adds darkness as the texture grows to fortissimo, then returning to the sadness of melancholy. One last crescendo is heard before the music dissolves into the darkness.
IV. Virginia’s Real Reel is a romping, early American period dance piece that originates from the Revolutionary War and Civil War era. It is based on three fiddle tunes: Five Miles out of Town; Johnny, Bring the Jug Around the Hill; and Jack Danielson’s Reel. The tunes are stated individually, with each featuring a section of the orchestra – strings, woodwinds and brass – before bringing in the entire orchestra for a show-down, hoe-down finish. The trombone acts as the caller for dancing a reel and abounds with imitation, mode changes, string glissandos and flourishes.