Wednesday, April 4, 2012

An Overture for Richard?

I am not one of the pesky many perpetually scoffing at programmatic music for being "limited." Yet. . . in this one case I simply must give new purpose to Rimsky-Korsakov's battle music from The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh. It will be quite a different purpose but I hope you agree one quite a fine fit. 

I propose seeing Korsakov's scene as an overture to Richard III. From the outset the dark winds suggest ill intent and the lengthening line Richard's invasive scheming. The brassy six-note figure evokes here throbbing (and later in the violins, stabbing) as much as marching and the opening wind figure most appropriately accompanies it. The rising range of the orchestration depicts Richard's rise and the rising tension matches his increasing viciousness.  

The spacious and grand theme that follows is the essence of what fascinates us in Richard. It's a soaring and rapturous theme, seductive in its primal heedlessness. Its opening figure is repeated against increasingly martial strings and drums until climaxing in a dazzling and colorful explosion of vigor, violence, and self-assertion. Growing darker and more malevolent, though, the theme is then itself besieged by ferocious drums who hound and snap at it until, put to flight, it limps off. (This dactylic figure could easily also be Richard's horse trotting off.) A baleful shadow of its former glory the theme makes its last overtures now, shrinking after each attempt. Its last gasp is way up in the oboes, and the last bit of energy it expends is on the shock at its fate.

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