Thursday, December 5, 2013

Crush On: Steampunk

Heart of Veridon steampunk photo
Heart of Veridon by Luis Melon
I'm so excited I don't even know where to begin! I recently discovered popular British American composer David Bruce who two years ago wrote a wildly loved piece commissioned by Carnegie Hall called Steampunk. 

I might be late to the party that was excitedly blogged about from here to kingdom come, but I actually came across it after finding out about Art of Elan (who I'll feature on a later post). But I absolutely freaked out when I heard this piece. I loved it instantly!

Steam all the Punk!

Steampunk is highly imaginative. From the first seconds when the clarinet is calling out over the other winds, you're thrown into the midst of construction on this city built on steam and clockwork. You travel down the too narrow streets surveying people going about their daily lives with brass trinkets and gadgets. The horns make their triumphal entry heralding the hero of the story--the scrappy underdog who has impossible luck for just escaping big trouble. The music is hurried and the violin's pizzacatto ticks time away. 

The second movement explores the damp underbelly of the city, revealing the political mechanics of how the city runs. There's men selling and buying items on the black market and secret passages behind storefronts. Nothing here is as it seems and yet the unlikely hero is inextricably connected to this world. It's as much a part of him as the gilded one above. He might even have an old uncle who tinkers in his shop trying to make something of value while striving to keep from being thrown out on the streets. Life here is unforgiving and brutally honest. The gruffness of the bassoon mixed with the undulating harmonies in the strings attest to it.

The third movement is like the calling card of a young woman who's beautiful, uncharacteristically tough, and yet stuck in a world of formalities where she feels positively alien. The triplet waltz evokes tradition and aristocracy while the minor key and melody go against the usual lightness of the dance. The violin shines in this movement. And when the entire ensemble joins in concert to play the tune, you know she's scheming her escape for another world, one full of adventure and where such pretense doesn't exist. Perhaps she unwittingly captures a glimpse of our unlikely hero. The movement coda's into what could be the theme of the city's capital. It begins softly with pizzacatto. All the instruments move as one often doubling one another. The music isn't simply formal, but meticulously regulated; not a hair is out of place. 

The fourth movement is light and funny. Its wonky off-kilter rhythm evokes the life of the hero--typical and yet not really. He's at work in a factory, but something happens. The obscure tremolo (16th notes?) in the lower strings ominously interrupts the otherwise light fare. His routine is interrupted. He might have something that doesn't exactly belong to him and is being chased by persistent but incompetent officers. The young man escapes the factory and uses his charm on an unsuspecting shopkeeper to hide him until the coast clears. Of course, nothing goes as planned and he's discovered. You can tell by the bassoon that growls suddenly. He ends up barely escaping through the busy streets amid contraptions and people and ultimately runs into the young woman, whom he uses as part of his cover. Her agitated and confused voice is evoked by the flute clarinet. She's asking him a thousand questions and he answers as quickly and calmly as possible. She's his only hope of escaping capture and he has seconds to convince her to help him. The tune from the bassoon comes back (the officers). They work their way through the market and eventually come upon the young woman. They question her. She tells them saw nothing. Once they leave, she blackmails him into inviting her into his world of adventure. An officer turns around and spots the man with her and the chase ensues. They ultimately escape, of course, on an airship!

The fifth movement begins with a heavy melody in the horns as if a funeral. Perhaps the young woman's mother doesn't know where her daughter is and the young man's uncle's worst nightmare is soon to become a reality. The brooding melody lasts for a long time. The young man and woman have to find where the gem he "found" belongs. The promise of riches for its rightful return is his motivation. The music eventually becomes more hurried with constant eighths in the strings. The brass interjects its ominous calls. Our two heroes face off against formidable adversaries who are determined to place him in jail and her in a corset and fixed marriage. The accelerando give the clear sense that time is running out. There's a race between the winds and brass with the strings keeping time.

How does the story end? I'll let you listen and decide. 

Also, check out my inspired pinboard of it on PinterestOh, and don't forget to get the FREE download of this. You're crazy not to. Positively mad! Now to find my pilot's goggles...


Post a Comment