Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Scaramouche - Darius Milhaud

I heard this today at the winner's concert here in Seattle (on which I was definitely not performing), and I was very surprised at the piece. Apparently, it was originally, for two pianos, but I heard it performed by an amazing alto saxophonist and his accompanist.

What mainly surprised me was its simple harmony. I don't know much about Milhaud - I've only heard his concerto for percussion, but I thought he wrote with a much more modern, atonal, and, for lack of a better word, weird style. Instead, the three movements of "Scaramouche" all had simple, very tonal harmonies and a style that is very easy to listen to.

Movement 1, "Vif," sounded almost like cartoon music. It uses what I think is just a I-vi-ii-V progression with the pianist playing a stride-style accompaniment. Though the piece ventures into some foreign keys at times, it always returns to that progression, which is the center of the piece.

Movement 2, "Modere," also has a simple harmony. The main progression is just I-V7-V-I. It's in Bb, and the top voice in the piano always plays D-Eb-C-D in a very standard voicing of these chords. If I had heard this piece without a program, I would've guessed it was from the classical era by the simpicity of it.

Movement 3, "Brazileira," is based on a Latin rhythm: 1 + (2) + (3+) 4, which is almost like the first bar of 3-2 clave. It's also pretty straightforward.

The piece made me feel happy for a couple of reasons. First of all, I was very happy to find more 20th century music that is not completely crazy and atonal. I don't enjoy a lot of the more experimental music of recent times, and I really admire composers that are able to compose stuff that appeals to a simple ear while sounding modern.

Aside from my intellectual delight, the piece made me happy because that's the mood Milhaud expresses. The first movement seems like it represents childish, innocent pleasure in life, while the second movement is a more calm, reflective joy, while the third is sassy yet still lively and joyful. I will definitely look into the music of Milhaud more in depth... his percussion music left me with a much different impression.


Emily said...

Whoa... seriously... AN ALTO SAXOPHONE?! I knew that Scaramouche was meant for two pianos, but an alto sax with a piano accompanist? Very good originality...

Anonymous said...

Scaramouche, as we know it, was originally written for an Alto Sax (put together from music composed for 2 theater pieces)with orchestral accompaniment. The 2 piano version came later that year as did a version for clarinet and orchestra.