Stephen Hartke

A Brandenburg Autumn

A BRANDENBURG AUTUMN (2006) Music for Double Reeds, Horns, Harpsichord, and Strings Commissioned by the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and the Koussevitzky Music Foundation Duration: 20 Minutes I.   Nocturne: Barcarolle II.  Scherzo: Colloquy III. Sarabande: Palaces IV. Rejouissance: Hornpipe Orchestra: 3 Oboes (all double English Horn), Bassoon, 2 Horns, Harpsichord, Strings (min. 5/4/3/2/1) A Brandenburg Autumn was composed in response to a request from the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and the Koussevitzky Music Foundation for a new work using the same instrumentation as the first of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos. This had, in fact, long been a particular project that I had wanted to pursue, and, as luck would have it, I found myself in Germany as a Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin at the very time I had to compose it. Thus the piece emerged as something of a musical diary of my impressions of living not far from the palace of Charlottenburg where the actual dedicatee of Bach's Brandenburgs once lived. The area of Brandenburg itself is a land of lakes, and my studio was only a few steps away from the Wannsee, the lake that borders on western Berlin as well as Potsdam, the capital of Brandenburg. The first movement - Nocturne: Barcarolle - is a musical sketch of the lake, the muted harpsichord evoking the sound of halyards striking against the masts of the sailboats moored at a nearby marina. The second movement is a more playful piece - Scherzo: Colloquy - about conversation and, more particularly, the speech rhythms and dynamic of a dinner table discussion among scholars. Against a background of polite expectation, a proposition is set forth, then elaborated, questioned perhaps, even misunderstood, and so on. Other ideas arise, some only tangentially related to the topic, and each in a different mode of speech. In the end there has been some transformation but of an inconclusive sort and the underlying politeness of the encounter prevails by quietly drawing a halt to the proceedings (coffee is served in the next room?) The third movement - Sarabande: Palaces - is the most autumnal of the movements, being very much about my strolling through the parks of Potsdam admiring the many Hohenzollern palaces and other buildings there. It is all very beautiful, especially during that time of year with the trees changing color and the sky dark and feeling so very close. It was hard not to think about Bach coming here to visit his son Carl Philip Emanuel, who was working at court, and, in the end, the movement came to have a few more overt references to the Baroque period. The harpsichord textures in particular spring from the Sarabande Double in Bach's D minor English Suite. And a harmonic juxtaposition in the opening seems to have led me to quote the celebrated theme by Frederick the Great that Bach elaborated in his Musical Offering. Lastly, the fourth movement - Rejouissance: Hornpipe - was inspired by a desire to hear three English Horns playing in unison fortissimo, and thus it begins, setting off a celebratory romp that I hope is reminiscent in spirit of the more outdoor sort of orchestral pieces of the Baroque.
Recording: Boston Modern Orchestra Project Gil Rose, Conductor BMOP 1050
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YouTube: BMOP Gil Rose, Conductor
YouTube: Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra (from Live Performance)