Monday, September 13, 2010

The Mysterious Art of Oscillation; William Walton's Second Bagatelle for Guitar

There is something irresistible in music which takes its time; which oscillates back and forth. Erik Satie's Gymnopédies come to mind, as does "There is no Rose" from the Ceremony of Carols. But also high on that list is the second bagatelle from William Walton's set of five that were written for Julian Bream in the early 1970s:

The ringing "D" and "A" that alternate on each downbeat are a foundation against which the predominantly major harmonies on the second beat rub, creating frictions that move with a logic derived from thinking guitar.

The metric world is built from dance; and it grows gradually in sections built from chords, then arpeggios, and finally independent melody.

The opening stanza articulates four sets of four-bar phrases in clean chords.
A repetition of this structure [0:30] moves toward the melodic by amplifying the chordal structure in arpeggios.

The third stanza [0:59] introduces melody. There is an exaggerated upbeat as the tune arrives and this section is doubled; twice as long as each of the prior stanzas. The narrative quality of the tune is given time to work on us.

The fourth stanza [1:56] echos the third with tasty textural variants. At the close of the section the music shifts into cadenza modality to close with rising lines, a spray of harmonics, and a tambora effect that rings.

The seamless edit of this video, cut from a studio performance where we levitate around Bream, to the footage of Bream playing for Walton on the remote Italian island of Ischia, located in the Gulf of Naples, is priceless.

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