Saturday, November 16, 2013

Russian Christmas Music

Russian Christmas Music by Alfred Reed was a piece that was written in 1944 for symphonic band. Reed was commissioned to write a Russian piece of music for a concert in Colorado. The goal in doing so was to improve Soviet-American relations. Originally Prokofiev's March, Op. 99 was to be preformed but it was soon discovered, 16 days before the premier, that it had already been played within the United States. This is when Reed was asked to write a new piece, and it was premiered on December 12, 1944 on nationally-broadcasted NBC radio. 

Although Russian Christmas Music consists of only one movement, it can be readily divided into four sections:

  1. The opening section, Carol of the Little Russian Children (mm. 1–31; approx. 3 minutes), is based on a 16th-century Russian Christmas carol. It is slow throughout; after a quiet opening by the chimes, contrabass clarinet, and string bass, the clarinets carry the melody. The other voices join in, and the section ends with a series of chords.
  1. The Antiphonal Chant (mm. 32–85; about 2 minutes) is faster and louder, with the melody initially carried by the trombones, horns, trumpets, and cornets. The woodwinds join in, and the music becomes more and more frenzied until the section ends with a massive cymbal and tam-tam crash.
  1. The Village Song (mm. 86–165; about 5 minutes) is much gentler by comparison; the Cor anglais has two solos, with soli in the flutes and a solo in the horns at the end of each. The piece enters a time signature of 6/4; the band plays a series of cantabile two-bar phrases back and forth between the woodwinds and brass, with the string bass playing long strings of eighth-notes, which are passed along to the bells. The song becomes quieter again, and the section ends with another English horn solo.
  1. The Cathedral Chorus (mm. 166–249; about 5 minutes) starts quietly, as the end of Village Song, but a crescendo in the trombones andpercussion brings the rest of the band in majestically. The music builds to a climax, but then backs down for a final chorale in the woodwinds; the sound builds once again, and the piece concludes with a thundering chorale marked by liberal use of the chimes and tam-tam as well as soaring horn counterpoint.

The Stetson University Symphonic Band will be playing this piece in the Hall of Fame concert on Sunday, November 17, 2013 at 4:00pm, conducted by Colbert Howell, associate of bands at Vero Beach High School. 

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