The Legend of Pecos Bill (composed November 2011) is a work that has the splendid audacity to devote an entire fifteen minute orchestral work to the programmatic tone poem about the folklore of an American heroic tale tall cowboy figure in the Old West during the era of Southwestern expansionism. It is a work divided seamlessly (attacca) into five-movements that wordlessly portray the heroic feats and conquests of the ‘big man’ through a diverse and vivid musical topography that flatters the orchestra and exploits its athleticism through a compelling mix of dynamic, dazzling and lovely interwoven interludes that bring alluring brightness, moments of sumptuous beauty and expansive thematic yearning.
Cinematic in its orientation, it satisfying holds and entertains the listener, through personal and lively idioms of bustling energy, uneven meters and dissimilar modes of expression for different instruments: harp solos, rippling woodwind arpeggiations and hymns of penitent, elemental simplicity. It is a lucid, engaging piece, borrowed from American influences, whose redolent antecedents can be felt, but sophistication and elegance of development demand and hold the attention in effusive strains of abrasiveness and sustained lyrical writings, both very surely handled.
I. Pecos Bill Shows Off
The opening fanfare present an exhilarating framework of materials, expressed in flourishing scalular runs and urgent, heart-stopping passage work that focus intently on bright, powerful moments of searing intensity and, at its climax, truly dramatic to its core. Its emotional heart comes in a scherzo-like section of grand, profound and exciting music, evolving naturally and unpretentiously. The movement makes musical analogies with the folklore of Pecos Bill using a rattlesnake to lasso a tornado, wildly bucking his bronco, Lighting, and shooting all the stars in the sky except for one – the Lone Star. His virtuosity is equally matched with orchestral verismo and gripping power of brassy fanfares that ripple throughout the movement. Varying textures of highly dissonant phrases that belie the later different angles and viewpoints from which terse drama unfolds, provide this music with highly charged feelings and memories of imaginative excitement that is injected into the lively subject that is treated through a varied of textures in a remarkably lively, wide-ranging musical discussion that breaks through to yet further levels of musical space and energy.
II. The Appearance of Slue-Foot Sue
This movement introduces a slow, momentous material of soloistic passages in the Clarinet, English Horn and Harp that echo hushed and veiled tones of serene beauty. Parallels in Pecos Bill’s first visions of meeting his cowgirl companion conjure haunting moods of introspection and emotionally charged music with great depth and austere, fleeting beauty. Tremelandos and the introduction of deeply engrossing ripples of soft textures that flutter in far-away, distant corners of the orchestra, provide a well-balanced subtext for the unspecified plot and contribute toward an awareness of artfully crafted contrasts and eloquent, economical beauty.
III. Lighting, the Horse
Pecos’ horse, Lighting, provides the comic relief in jaunting grace notes, French horn ostinatos and jéte Strings that provide backdrops for Tuba solos, high-soaring String lines and sandpaper accents that add wit and humour to the subject matter, avoiding saccharine prettiness and slapstick clichès that frequently befall popular children’s pieces. A demonstrated grasp of profound gramatic musical storytelling is felt as the spirit of the West is captured in temple block horse-hoofs that challenge the player, entertainer the listener and never pander, through a skillful balancing of dark and light atmospheres. The inspired writing of the movement showcase the lyrical gift and dramatic sense of captivating and witty entertainment on themes that recur, here in percussive characterizations of the people and the landscape. Colorful orchestral use of catchy ensemble and large-scale chorales round out a satisfyingly strong, flexible piece of sustained writing that skillfully juxtaposes the animal kingdom’s buoyant innocence with the more mordant colors of the human realm – music that consistently boasts grateful, characterful instrumental writing.
IV. The West
The fourth movement seamlessly is integrated by virtue of a strings section soli that highlights the expanse of the Old West in a fugue-like interlude that builds in tension and breath into the final movement. The compositional art can be seen very clearly in this movement. The counterpoint of ideas present an intellectual challenge but is often subliminally combined with bold and catchy orchestral effects. It is surprisingly imaginative, varied and often intricately-woven in its theatrical touch. It dramatically expressive the tender aspects of the land through lyrical writing, sensitivity portrayed.
The final movement begins similarly as the beginning of the piece, yet becomes transformed as colorful, dazzling flourishes permeate the score across a desert of slow-moving chorale-style Brass. The strings are predominantly configured in open-fifths figurations, that exploit the stringed-instrument’s natural tuning and idiomatic ‘barn-yard’ feel. Its story depicts the encapsulation of all the themes that have been expound upon, and respond with enthusiastic beautiful exchanges between the sections of the orchestra. It is melancholic and lovely – giving children and adults a suggestive tone of story, colorful and deliciously defiant in its machismo. There is much to rejoice about and entrancing sounds and vivid orchestrations eminently agreeable for its dramatic flair, pervade the orchestra with thunderous fanfares in a rousing finale, powerfully gripping and full of rich, remarkable, delightfully wonderful emotional energy.
also available in: