Some more polyphony

Thomas Tallis: Spem In Alium

This is a motet (sacred vocal work) written, impressively, for eight 5 part choirs.  It starts with an individual line and adds in more one at a time, quickly becoming a very full and rich sound.  As the work progresses different voices can be heard coming into the foreground and then dying away back into the harmony again, producing quite a hypnotic effect.

Stravinsky: Octet for Wind Instruments

Although entitled ‘Octet for Wind Instruments’ this piece in three movements is actually written for a collection of wind and brass instruments: flute, clarinet, two bassoons, two trombones and two trumpets. During the piece you get to hear most combinations of instruments playing together which provides some nice contrasts.  On the woodwind side I thought the use of two bassoons was an interesting choice (usually just one bass instrument is more common in small groupings) but it seemed to work well.  In the middle movement which is a theme and variations, one of the bassoons is given a fast running repeated motif so is not just used as a traditional simple bass line.  Overall, the piece has a playful feel and doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously, quite different to my previous encounters with Stravinsky.

Villa-Lobos: Quatuor for Flute, Oboe, Clarinet & Bassoon

I came across this by chance in my search for scores written for wind quartet.  It was written by the Brazillian composer Villa-Lobos in 1928, and is in three movements.

I really liked the contrasts between the sections where the instruments are playing together rhythmically, and the sections where they are more independent.  In the second movement three of the parts are playing the same triplet rhythm while the fourth has a different melody, which I thought worked really well.  Sometimes the instruments are playing the same melody an octave apart; one section in the middle movement has the clarinet and flute playing in octaves with the oboe playing a fifth in the middle.

There is quite strong use of imitation throughout the piece, with the different instruments often following each other with the same phrase (sometimes at a different pitch).  It ends with all the parts playing in octaves which gives a definite sense of closure.



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