I. Fresh Breeze II. Hot, Still III. Wafting IV. Gale
Full orchestra: piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 Bb clarinets, bass clarinet, 3 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 Bb trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, [3 percussion: vibraphone, marimba, orchestra bells, crotales, bell tree, triangle, wind chimes, tam-tam (large), bass drum, tenor drum, bongos, tom-tom, snare drum, temple blocks, tubular bells, sleigh bells, suspended cymbal, sizzle cymbal, wind machine (optional synthesized white or pink noise)], harp, piano/celeste, strings
The Minnesota Orchestra
Premiered January 30, 1985 by the Minnesota Orchestra, Neville Marriner, conductor
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Symphony: Water Music is a poetic symphony in four movements (fast-slow- presto-finale) which create a quartet of water studies. The tempo for each is indicated only by metronome marking, but the score bears many instructions to the performers suggesting how to enhance the expression and the mood (i.e., "fleetingly-like a shadow"). There is a deliberate homage to Handel in the first movement. However, the opening, ‘Fresh Breeze,’ like the succeeding movements, depends less on motive than on texture and gesture. For instance, the first quiet chord, emerging from the strings, is a stack of thirds pulsing in 6/8 time. It attempts to capture the fresh, oscillating, crystalline vibrancy of water moved by constant wind. The gestures move about the orchestra almost kaleidoscopically, pin-pointing here a quartet of horns and harp glissando, there trilling high in the winds or sandwiched in the violas; often vibrations of percussion are suspended weightlessly in the air. The motion is constant as the colorful images dart across the immensity of the full orchestra.
A phrase small as a summer breeze wafts from a solo flute above hushed chimes and from a single high note in the violins to establish the fundamental image of the second movement, ‘Hot, Still.’ Quick figurations flicker among the woodwinds as if gently ruffling the surface of a lake in August, but the underlying pulse is a slow 6/4, the beat hazed with lots of ties over the bar lines, as if the waters are reluctant to stir. To underline the lethargy of a lake on a hot, humid day, pedal tones in trombones, tuba, cellos, basses and other heavy instruments keep the flow as sustained as possible, until at midpoint, the bass clarinet and other wind instruments seem to stir the breezes. A long pause divides the two halves of the symphony.
‘Wafting’ suggests the tiny scatter squalls and cat's paws created by puffs on still water just before a front moves in. Muted horns and trumpets echoing back and forth in a complex rhythmic pattern establish the head-long pace and Queen Mab- like texture of the scherzo.
‘Gale,’ the final movement, takes its cue from the sudden, violent storms of summer. The goal of the music is not to portray the storm, but to dwell in its force, expressing the feelings aroused by such violence rather than fury , assaulted from all sides by strong, tonal images.
Libby Larsen, 1985
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