Last time, I briefly mentioned that the Concerto for Double Bass and Chamber Ensemble I'm writing this summer will be program music, or music telling a story/describing something preexisting/etc., within 4 - 5 movements (read more about those specific details here, if you're just joining in). Part of the challenge of creating program music isn't finding material to write about - there is so much out there in the world that's really fascinating, whether it's an historical event, stories, people, paintings, etc. Creating new program music raises several questions that must be solved during the writing process: What makes the inspiration for the new piece... well, inspiring? What is it about this inspiration that makes it so compelling to write music about? And, are these characteristics enough to justify the creation of a new piece of music expressing what there is to know about this inspiration?
For me, what really sparked the basis of this concerto had to do with the instrumentation I've chosen for the piece. If you recall from my previous post, the use of chamber winds as the accompaniment will let the soloist stand out more in the ensemble and creates opportunities for them to interact with individual players more often (as opposed to having an accompaniment with other instruments in the string family). With a few exceptions to this, the chamber ensemble is connected in its acoustic environment by containing similar families of instruments within the group (generally speaking, there are double-reeds, a group of brass players, several percussion players and piano). The double bass is the only stringed instrument of its kind in the ensemble (no, piano doesn't count this time) - again, making the soloist all the more unique. I liken this to the soloist therefore being a "tourist" of sorts in the group, exploring areas of the soundscape that are diverse in some respects but, on the whole, make for a unique family of tone colors and sounds all commonly united together.
The American landscape is a lot like this, too. There's industrial cities, urban/rural areas, suburbia, forests, grassy fields, deserts, canyons, mountains, etc. In short, there are so many regions in this country that are incredibly diverse due to aspects such as climate, temperature, human activity, topography, geography, and more. Overall, though, these different regions all make up the American landscape, each having unique characteristics on their own but still collectively forming what we know to be the landscape of this country.
This idea is what has ultimately become the basis for creating the programmatic nature of this new concerto. The piece's movements will sonically describe a certain region of the American countryside, with the connective tissue of the work residing in a few ideas:
1. The soloist is the "tourist" of these places, thus the main character of the piece (as it should be) with its own distinctive motive.
2. A main theme exists to represent the entire journey depicted in the concerto.
3. Motives in this main theme change depending on the location (or movement).
The first movement is based on the western countryside and, functioning as the start of this adventure, will open the work with the grandeur and majestic features of this region. Movement 2 will shift the concerto in a different direction through exploring the growth of urbanized districts, structured similarly to a historical documentary. The third movement moves to the seaside (e.g. northern Michigan or the New England region) and, naturally, exists in the style of a sea shanty. At this point, I haven't decided if the shanty will be an original melody or an arrangement of a preexisting tune, but that will be decided soon. The fourth (and so far, final) movement will be a jazzy escapade through the big cities in the country, where I intend to push the double bass even farther from a technical standpoint as much as possible.
If there is a fifth movement, and this still has yet to be determined due to overall length, it will most likely be an epilogue of some sort adhering to the unification of all these areas into one single landscape. Depending on how the writing process goes, I may even make it an optional movement. That way, the fourth movement could also function as a finale for the piece.
As of now, the first movement has been completely written, with the second movement being close to completed too. I plan to continue writing the concerto and make any formatting edits later. The piano reduction will be concurrently created in this timeline.
Next time, I'll talk more about the first movement and introduce the primary musical ideas for the whole piece. I'll also reveal the official instrumentation for the winds and brass, as well as a tentative percussion list that I may use some, little, or all of in the end. Stay tuned!