for Wind Ensemble
Duration: 4 1/2 minutes / Grade 5
During my mid-20s, I was fascinated with Christmas carols, and wrote a number of arrangements and compositions based on them. (Such as this one, which was originally scored for brass band around 2003.) My fascination was in part due to a childhood fondness of Christmas, but also because they are so familiar and well-known. Many Christmas melodies are famous all over the world, not just in a particular region. That sets them apart from folk songs, hymns, or patriotic tunes which are often known only to a regional population, subculture, or nationality.
Most treatments of Christmas melodies are simply traditional arrangements, and therefore not terribly interesting from a compositional standpoint. I prefer to explore these melodies as a composer. That's why most of my Christmas-inspired works are more compositions than arrangements. I've merely adopted a well-known melody as my main theme.
I particularly like carols that are unique in some way. For example, the traditional French Carol, "Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella", has a somewhat quirky and asymmetrical form, which inspired this present set of rhapsodic and unpredictable variations. (See also, “Variations on Noel Nouvelët” and “Three Kings Fantasy.”)
The piece opens with a sudden burst of energy that leads quickly into the cheerful and somewhat schizophrenic first statement. The oft-changing time signature and accompaniment was suggested by the quirkiness of the original melody.
At "D", the melody finally settles into a stable 12/8 time with the horns and baritones laying a minimalistic accompaniment using fragments of the melody. The Euphonium, Flugel, and Trombones carry the slightly altered theme.
But the relative stability lasts only a short while. At "E", the accompaniment shifts into an unstable bitonal pattern in 15/8 time. The melody is augmented and played in the basses, then passes to the cornets. Soon afterward, the instability suddenly "decays" into a very stable homophonic feel in a different key. But it, too, is not to last.
Another sudden transition leads into yet another key with an energetic, bitonal, quasi-waltz feel while fragments of the melody are played by the trumpets and answered in the trombones.
Again, the key changes and the mood shifts into a slow, gymnopedie-inspired interpretation of the melody. This time, the melody is in minor mode. But the melancholic and reflective nature of this setting soon gives way to more festivity...
At "J", the mood shifts into a cheerful Celtic-style interpretation of the melody with the drums to go with it. This "new" melody is played through twice before the key changes and a horn counter melody is added.
The coda begins at "M", using melodic fragments to create a building dramatic effect that finishes off with a big finale evocative of the opening statement at "A".