Do these relationships continue beyond summer? Or, do some of them end? What defines these relationships?
How can time change one or both people? What experiences can change them?
Herein lies the first conundrum - the title of the movement itself is a misnomer. "Idyll" is defined as a picturesque, idealized, and romanticized aspect of storytelling that may not necessarily lend itself to truth, yet "chronicle" is defined as an exact written account of what actually happened. I mentioned previously in this blog series that, with this piece, I wasn't intentionally seeking to romanticize the concepts that this music explores. So, where's the truth here? This movement explores this further, but was never really intended to provide a definitive answer to this question.
As with the first movement, the soprano saxophone's role is largely that of a narrator describing these experiences. Here, though, the soloist's role is slightly more expanded, and as a result, the movement is much more thematic and dramatic in nature. The first motive is established by the soloist, then is largely kept by the soloist throughout the rest of the movement (with one major exception at the very end). Hints may or may not be heard in the ensemble, but it's never explicitly suggested that the motive is shared with anyone else -
There is a second motive at play here - one that suggests more of a foreboding sense of dread or uneasiness -
As with the first movement's depiction of the good and bad memories that can be gained from sightseeing and other adventures, so too does this movement explore the dichotomy between the good and bad memories of these various relationships, and more so how they are defined by said experiences.
Take the first several phrases, for example. After a brief introduction, it begins with a song in its heart and a sense of carefree spirit - moving, sweet, and lyrical... -
...peppered by moments of playfulness and even a sense of comedy -
However, when that sense of uneasiness begins to slowly make its presence known via the arrival of the second motive, an aura of mystery begins to form with it. This leads to probably my favorite ensemble texture of all the music written in this concerto: the passage shown below -
Unlike the first movement's broader and soaring scope, "Idyllic Chronicles" contains more of a sense of intimacy. Much of the ensemble's music is very lightly scored, creating interactions with the soloist more like chamber music if anything else. This feeling also extends itself to the use of the harp - the only movement of the concerto that features this instrument. For the sake of practicality, the harp part is optional and mostly doubled in the piano/celesta as needed -
Over time, the first motive intentionally doesn't really come back in its full stated form. Hints and fragments of it are suggested, but it's as if the motive seems to have lost its way. In attempting to capture the heart of the motive's musical development, it doesn't actually succeed at doing this and is thus never really developed at all. Starting with the soloist's first cadenza, it becomes more lost in translation if anything else -
Also of note in this cadenza is the brief use of improvisation. The boxed material below can be played as written or can be extended via improvisation for an additional 20-35 seconds at the soloist's discretion. Here, I wanted to play more to Jordan's background as a jazz musician in a manner which felt organic and appropriate to this movement. In this case, no charts or slash regions are written; the improvisation extends from this given material instead -
"Idyllic Chronicles" begins by exploring the good memories of the relationships between family, friends, and loved ones. It ends, however, with the other side of things - the bad memories, the horrifying fights that could be had, the feelings endured from said experiences (as with from the good memories), and the possibilities of said relationships ending. Not every relationship is perfect - sometimes, there are bad memories too.
This starts with both motives at odds with each other, vying for more attention (the first still lost and trying to find a sense of purpose)... -
...and then suddenly, without warning, exploding into a state of both agony and terror as this conflict worsens -
In this case, it's the second motive which wins this conflict, dramatically stated with a sense of finality to it -
This doesn't mean, however, that the first motive is completely obliterated. It does appear briefly one more time thanks to the soloist, but still lost and with a sense of sadness that it now carries. One thing of note in the ensemble with this penultimate passage is the use of the "echo tone" in the clarinets, or sub-tones. It's very quiet on the instrument, but much darker and, in my mind, more mournful in nature. In this passage, it is marked at pianissimo (risking the possibility of it being fully covered up), but on the other hand, not much else is going on in the ensemble. The clarinets here are only accompanied by mallet percussion (and, of course, soloist leading the group). It's possible, though, that I still may have to mark this dynamic up to piano or mezzo-piano if it's still not balanced and can't be heard -
Thus, the soloist's journey throughout this movement ranges from pure narration/guiding the ensemble to full contemplation/playing more with the ensemble.
From the beginning of the early stages for "Idyllic Chronicles," I knew that this movement was always going to end with an offstage player. The reason for this is because the final moment depicts the memories from these particular experiences slowly but surely fading off in the distance, but not before lingering for just a little longer.
This offstage player is only used once and specifically for this moment, but it is one of the more important ensemble moments in the concerto. The player is instructed to be placed in a balcony or similar area within the audience, hidden from sight. As soon as their music is cued, they intentionally don't sync with the conductor and ensemble, instead becoming the final sound heard in this movement.
The most difficult part, however, was choosing the right color and voice to depict this. The audio excerpts below are of the second half of the offstage part, featuring three of the four instruments I thought about for filling this role.
The fourth and final instrument that I considered for this offstage part was ultimately chosen. The inherent idiomatic nature of this instrument presented a more human quality to it in my mind than most of the instruments in the wind ensemble, but that's only my opinion. If played with a certain stylistic timbre and the higher range is mostly avoided, this sense of alluring and other-worldly spirituality is created that's inherently and uniquely its own, something which I think can be difficult to find anywhere else if trying to achieve this color with only one instrument.
So, in the end, "Idyllic Chronicles" ends with an offstage solo flute -
I mentioned previously that the player is cued, then largely plays on their own. This is because their music is independently free from the meter and tempo that the soprano saxophone and wind ensemble are set to in this final passage. In fact, the group is even meant to be getting slower and slower up to their final chord of the movement -
And, even after that, the solo flute still continues, slowly but surely fading away as a final representation of the lingering good and bad memories that can be gained from these experiences. Its passage includes both motives of "Idyllic Chronicles," the only other instrument besides the solo soprano saxophone to really state the first motive in some fuller capacity -
Because the flute was chosen for this offstage role, the onstage flutes in the wind ensemble are prominently more featured as a means to foreshadow this final moment. Although the flute wasn't the first instrument I considered for this role, its idiomatic nature ended up making it the best possible choice altogether.
So, while "Idyllic Chronicles" ends in uncertainty, the grand finale of Summertime Echoes has a much more definitive end, and a fiery, blazing whirlwind of a third movement to boot. The next blog post will discuss, in its entirety, the third and final movement of this soprano saxophone concerto - "Blazing Spectacles."