Foxtrot for orchestra on a Pavan by John Bull
2.picc.2.2.bcl.2.dbn-22.214.171.124-timp.perc(3):I=police whistle/SD/cym/3susp.cym/TD/tam-t/thin metal sheet with hammer/pft(upright with action removed); II=4wdbl/biscuit tin(filled with glass fragments)/football rattle/BD/4metal scaffold tubes and 2hammers; III=referee's whistle/football rattle/claves/slapstick/ biscuit tin/2BD-harp(with and without amplification)-strings foxtrot band:picc(=fl).cl-tpt.trbn-pft(out-of-tune 'honky tonk')-perc(1):normal band kit-vln.vlc.db
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This work is based on the St Thomas Wake Pavan of John Bull, the XVI-XVll century English composer. This pre-existing material is "projected" through a progressive series of mathematical curves, which affect it much as, in visual terms, would distorting mirrors of systematically varying degrees of convexity and concavity. At the outset, however, the Pavan is not given in its original form, but appears already in the process of transformation into a slow foxtrot, played by a small band, seated apart from the orchestra. The orchestra immediately takes this up, and, in "commenting" upon it, transforms it into a complex isorhythmic structure, in which stylistic elements of the band are exaggerated.
This "comment" leads to a slow dissolution, from which the band takes up fragments of ideas in the process of disintegration, and refashions these into a sequence of five foxtrots, each in a distinct style. Over the last of these dances, the orchestra starts a slow, declamatory reworking of material from it, leading to a further fast "commentary" upon all five foxtrots. A final foxtrot from the band cuts across this, having the exact harmonic skeleton of the John Bull Pavan, which is now heard simultaneously from the harp in the orchestra, in its original form. There is no attempt to integrate the styles of the band and the symphony orchestra, each goes its own way on its own terms. The use of the separate band is not meant to imply, in any sense, a kind of sinfonia concertante, nor even a parodic element. The foxtrot band music exists as an object, and the orchestra music implies, if such a thing is possible, an attitude, in purely musical terms, towards this object. The use of a Renaissance pavan as the binding factor throughout is not fortuitous, even if the historical reality of the original is destroyed in the process, refurbishing one dead dance form in terms of a more recent dance form, also, however, in that sense, just as dead. Moreover, not only was thirties dance music the first music I myself heard, therefore having personal, rather sentimental associations, but heard now, retrospectively, from this distance, it can perhaps become not only its own comment on the political and moral irresponsibility of its time (bearing in mind what we know of the period's history, and the way, unlike today's pop-music, this music reflects no awareness whatever of such implications) - but, by extension, on these things in themselves, as such.
P. M. D.
This programme note may be reproduced free of charge in concert programmes with a credit to the composer