Posted in Definite-pitched Percussion Repertoire

Marimba Pieces

This list covers the pieces with marimba that I’ve listened to, including the unaccompanied and accompanied solo compositions, as well as some ensemble/chamber and orchestral works. Regarding the unaccompanied solo pieces, unlike xylophone, marimba has been quite explored by the composers. As I wrote in the post about the xylophone pieces, many even prefer the accompanied solo xylophone works to be played on marimba instead. On the other hand, regarding the chamber and orchestral repertoire, not only is marimba a newer instrument, which joined the orchestra later, but it has a limited projection when compared to the xylophone. This is why the ensemble/orchestral repertoire is much smaller for marimba.

Unaccompanied Solo Marimba

From its introduction to the western classical music around 1910 (Vienna Symphonic Library), it wasn’t until 1940 that the original compositions appeared, with the solo works prior to that being mostly transcriptions. (Bridge: 2) While I will not focus on the transcriptions, but the original works, it is interesting to mention Vida Chenowith. She was among the first players to play polyphonically on the instrument, being able to perform chorales by Bach. Chenoweth (1959: 20-21) also set some guidance for the composers in how to write for marimba.

Clair Omar Musser – Prelude Op. 11 No. 3 and No. 7; Etude Op. 6 No. 2, No. 8, No 9 and No. 10 (probably between 1940 and 1960)

I can’t find the exact composition date. Some sources list the some of the pieces above with piano accompaniment, but the versions I’ve listened to were all unaccompanied. Musser is perhaps one of the first to compose original marimba works. Bridge (5) writes in his paper about marimba repertoire how Musser’s compositions are considered pedagogical, rather than serious works. However, I really enjoyed these pieces and I feel they were an interesting introduction the four-mallet technique of marimba. In fact, Musser developed a unique grip, which is now called after him – the Musser grip. (Rohner, 2007: 145) I also found the scores to look at, and the harmony is mostly quite standard, much like the form, often the ternary aba form. Nevertheless, there were some quite exciting melodic phrases that I loved, especially in the Etude Op. 6 No. 8 – my favorite, which in a different style from his other pieces I listed. It is also nicknamed whole tone, which upon listening, you can guess why.

Continue reading “Marimba Pieces”

Posted in Definite-pitched Percussion Repertoire

Xylophone Pieces

This is a list of xylophone pieces I’ve listened to. Much like the glockenspiel, xylophone has been limited to the orchestra and ensemble/chamber repertoire. Glockenspiel though did catch the attention of some contemporary composers, who gave it interesting and unique treatments as a solo instrument, as you could see in my glockenspiel repertoire blog post here. Xylophone, on the other hand, continues to be ignored as an unaccompanied solo instrument. The solo pieces I’ve found were almost all with accompaniment, many being arrangements of the pieces written for other instruments, or original works found in relation to popular ragtime, jazz, novelty and vaudeville music.

Unaccompanied Solo Xylophone

Thomas Pitfield – Sonata for Xylophone Solo (1967)

I read in the description of the piece here that it is known as the first solo for the instrument to require two mallets in one hand. This is a four-movement piece and explores mostly the major tonality, with only the final movement beginning in minor, only to end back in major again.

I was a bit surprised by this, but even more to learn that in general, the pieces featuring xylophone tend to use the major key. I read an interesting paper on this subject called “The Happy Xylophone: Acoustics Affordances Restrict An Emotional Palate” by Schutz, Huron, Keeton and Loewer, which goes into more detail and compares the xylophone repertoire with the marimba, writing how xylophone lacks the three prosodic cues that characterize the sad speech – dark timbre, low pitch height and slow articulation rate. (2008: 126)

The xylophone is also associated with vaudeville and jazz bands, because its lively-sounding timbre worked well with the syncopated dance music of the 1920s and 1930s. However, I do believe xylophone could be made to sound sad and dark despite its bright timbre, the same way that the composers have shown that the solo glockenspiel could produce full solo works, despite its esoteric, almost piercing sound. I hope to demonstrate this in the future.  Continue reading “Xylophone Pieces”

Posted in Definite-pitched Percussion Repertoire

Glockenspiel Pieces

This post lists the compositions I’ve listened to which feature glockenspiel. I was surprised at the lack of solo pieces for the instrument (more about that below), and almost no solo works with accompaniment. It was much easier to find pieces where glockenspiel is a part of an chamber ensemble or orchestra.

Solo Glockenspiel

I’ve searched quite some time for solo glockenspiel pieces, however, the number of pieces I found was to a great extent less than what I’ve expected to come across. Note that I couldn’t find complete scores for many of the pieces mentioned here, so I may not be able to show a full understanding, and the analysis I include with my impressions also depends on other sources, especially Douglass’s doctoral dissertation. (2016)

As he writes (2016: 2), only a small body of solo glockenspiel literature existed in the latter half of the twentieth century and into the first decade of this century, much of it unpublished.

I’ve only found two pieces from this period to listen to:

Stuart Saunders Smith – Thaw (1993)

This work seems to be the first one to treat glockenspiel as a solo instrument. Before it, glockenspiel was only used for its programmatic associations, like the bell tower carillon, music boxes, or Messiaen’s use as the transcribed birdcalls. (Muller, 2014: 14)

As Wadley (1998) points out, Smith was born in Maine, with much of the impressions of his life being surrounded by its cold expanse. Thaw is one of the still-lifes of the Maine landscape, and I loved the way the rough textures engage with the more clear and delicate ones, as such reflecting the melting frost. I found a description for the performance on jwpepper:

“Imagine each bar of the orchestra bells as an icicle. As you engage each icicle it melts into other, previously engaged icicles, creating a finemist.”

All in all, I found this complex piece very enjoyable and its use of glockenspiel was very intriguing to me. Continue reading “Glockenspiel Pieces”

Posted in Definite-pitched Percussion Repertoire

Timpani pieces

This post is about the timpani pieces I’ve listened to, including some brief impressions. This list includes the solo pieces, and also some ensemble/chamber and orchestral pieces where there are some interesting timpani segments.

Solo Timpani

Elliot Carter – Eight Pieces for Four Timpani (one player) (1950, 1966)

With all the inventive and innovative use of the extended techniques, this collection of eight pieces was a great introduction to the capabilities of the timpani. The first piece, Saeta, is named after a flamenco-type vocal song. Indeed, many parts with their accelerating notes, like the opening, and the changing time signatures, show the influence of flamenco. Some parts also use the back of the stick instead of the head. Because of the instrument’s timbre, it sounds to me as a kind of religious procession. Indeed, Saeta song is said to be the descendant of the ceremony, during which an arrow – saeta was shot into the sky to release rain. In a certain part, before the recapitulation, timpani reminds of the sound of raindrops a bit. Continue reading “Timpani pieces”