Work: Wild Swans Concert Suite – Eliza Aria
Composer: Elena Kats-Chernin
Track from the album: Wild Swans (ABC Classics, 2007)(12 Marks) This excerpt has changing moods. Discuss how the performers create these moods using:
- blend and balance between voice and instruments
The mood of this work is tranquil at points and more energetic at others.
Blend and balance:
In the opening tranquil sections the parts are blended through the use of similar tone colours. Similar tone colours, unified blend = tranquility.
The bright clarity of the voice matches the bright, clarity of the piano line. The soprano sings at a comfortable high register. Strings are also bright/ringing in quality. Lower strings add depth to the sound and the warmth of their tone colour gives grounding to the sound and enhances the tranquility.
The soprano’s melody is forward in the mix through the use of high pitch, brightness of tone colour and a louder dynamic. The accompanying parts are softer through slightly lower pitch or, where pitch is similar or higher, softer dynamic level.
Interludes between the sections from high woodwind instruments – oboes and flutes in particular – take over the main melodic role and move to the foreground as the voice drops out. The texture here is much thicker as the parts are harmonised in rhythmic unison. So, while the texture is still homophonic, the character of the piece is more energetic than tranquil. The intensity of this section increases as upper strings play long held notes, which maintain a harmonic role, at a similar register to the woodwinds, thus increasing the dynamic and the energy of this section.
The use of polyphonic texture increases the energy as the vocal staccato melody is played on equal footing (similar dynamics and tone colour) to the woodwind melody. This is complemented by an increase in tempo. The strings remain in the background when playing staccato pizzicato articulation.
Roles change again as the flute plays the main melodic theme, again using staccato articulation and comes to the foreground through use of high pitch. The texture here is polyphonic as the upper strings play a counter melody with longer note durations.
Near the end of the excerpt the upper strings take over the main melody and this interchanges with the voice, changing roles while maintaining the homophonic texture. The voice drops out while the strings take over in a similar manner – long legato lines, flowing melodic contour using comfortable, stepwise intervals. Later the melody is doubled in unison between the soprano and the upper strings. The character here is more energetic as a result.
Energy here is also created through the use of woodwind counter melody, similar to that played earlier but this time down the octave and at a softer dynamic. This causes it to retreat to the middle ground but the thickening texture as a result increases the energetic nature of this section.
Staccato articulation in the voice mirrors the use of pizzicato in the strings and staccato articulation in woodwinds, piano and glockenspiel. Having said this, the reverberant nature of the glock results in a longer decay for this instrument. Equally, the piano has some natural resonance that causes the notes to have a more gradual decay in comparison to the voice. There is a degree of delay to the decay of strings through natural resonance while the voice has a fairly abrupt attack and decay. The unity of articulation here, while staccato, helps create at tranquil mood, particularly when paired with a softer dynamic and slow, steady tempo.
Near the end of the excerpt unified staccato movement is replaced by long legato lines. The connectedness of these parts you would assume would create tranquility but a change in harmony to use of chromaticism and a louder dynamic, as well as the changing roles of the strings and voice, mean that the character is more energetic. Here there is organic attack and tapered decay on vocal and string lines in particular which are similar in articulation again.
Before the entrance of the legato strings the vocalist contrasts articulation and allows for smooth transition between sections. Her opening notes are sung staccato while the next phrase is sung at a lower pitch and uses flowing, well connected legato lines.
During this final section articulation is unified in a similar way as the opening phrase. This time unified through the use of long legato lines. The string pizzicato movement, which was pretty consistent throughout the excerpt, is replaced by well connected phrases. The performers seem to have changed the expected roles of articulation in creating mood. While legato lines usually signify tranquility and staccato usually implies energy, the manipulation of the other elements of music, in particular harmony and dynamics, create the opposite effect. The woodwind layer here is still staccato but is not as pronounced as it is at a softer dynamic and lower in pitch. This layering of contrasting articulation increases the energy.
The flutes, when they take over the main melodic figure from the voice remain semi-detached. They are smoother and more joined than the voice while still maintaining a little separation between notes and sudden attack. When the voice reenters, the contrasting legato line contributes to the complexity of the layers. Contrasting articulation here helps create a sense of energy.