for 3 flutes, 'cello, voice, synthesizer and piano

[1] page from the original score
[2] programme notes to the full score
[1] page from the original score



[2] programme notes to the full score

The first performance of INDIA SONG Overture and Piano Blues took place on Wednesday the 5th of June 1991. The performers were as follows:


Alia Bath - 'Cello

Anita Gardner - Flute

Zachar Laskewicz - Flute, Piano and Synthesizer

Emma Rooksby - Voice

Justine Thornle y - Alto Flute



Overture and Piano Blues


India Song Overture and Piano Blues is a work composed for a production of the theatre piece by Marguerite Duras. As well as fulfilling the traditional role of an 'overture' in preparing the audience for the theatre piece that succeeds it the work deals with the concept of space in music and theatre. In this respect the most important function is to move the audience from a traditional theatrical space to the theatre world of Duras (involved with fragmented memories of a distant past) through the musical structure of the composition. At the beginning of her play it says that music is played "to cover the time that it takes the audience to emerge from the ordinary world they are in when the performance begins." This piece attempts to make this transformation by moving gradually from long note musical gestures to an evocative blues piano work. The ultimate purpose of this composition is to emphasize the distance between musical and theatrical experience, and also to symbolize the aching gap between the present and our conception of the past (the distorting world of memory); both areas which are particularly important in the work of Duras. The fully developed piano composition that emerges from the overture was designed to recur at various times in the soundtrack for the India Song production, along with the Song of Savannahkhet melody which is also created during the overture. The piano blues itself can actually be played as a separate work for solo piano, and is therefore presented as such in this edition of the composition. In a performance of the complete composition however, the piano performer proceeds directly from bar 395 to the 3b symbol placed in the fifth bar of the piano solo. A short introduction that would be played in a solo performance is therefore skipped.

Two important melodies are formed in the overture, and were designed to recur throughout the soundtrack of the theatre piece. Like other elements in the play, they are "remembered." Duras represents memory as something that is not reliable and can over time distort the truth, creating a different type of reality. The audience is presented with an almost surreal collage of sounds and images, hallucinations from the past. Four ethereal voices try to piece together these memories, but are displaced and hindered by the effects of time. The characters being remembered become more than just memories, transforming into symbolic figures for the lost voices that appear to want to piece the half-remembered fragments into a coherent whole. The melodies represent the two major characters, and are points of connection for the voices with the past. These melodies are the Piano Blues (representing Anne-Marie Stretter) melody and the Song of Savannakhet (representing the mad beggar woman). In the overture, they develop from the same musical source, and in their primordial form sound melodious when played together, although further development changes the melodies. This reflects the similarities and the differences between the two major characters of the play, as well as representing an essential coherence that is found by the voices resulting in the two being sometimes mistaken for one another.

The chord progression on which the structure of the overture is based transposes continuously up and then down a tone, never completely resolving, to symbolize a sense of continuously recurring time. It is represented in one of its forms in the example above. The work is divided into three main sections: 1a , 1b , 2 , 3a and 3b . Section 1a begins with the long-note gestures played by the flutes. They move chromatically to the notes of the first chord of the progression (based on an Indian mode). The entrance of the cello signifies that the first transposition (down a tone) is approaching, and after the transposition the voice begins singing the Song of Savannakhet melody. The first appearance of the song is highly detached because of the length of the notes, and is virtually unrecognizable as the song that is used further on when the speed doubles and the piece moves directly into 1b (from where the previous example is taken). soon the voice fades out, and the flutes fade in one by one, taking up this melody and developing it rhythmically. Towards the end of 1b , the India song melody is played for the first time on the alto flute, but is indistinguishable because of the flutes rhythmic development above it. The flutes bring about metric modulation leading to section 2 .

Section 2 begins with a sudden introduction of almost all the instrumental forces in the new speed. It has also transposed up a fifth. The piano (heard for the first time) plays the chord progression and the India Song melody, and the alto flute plays the Song of Savannakhet melody. For the first time they are heard together. The flutes fade in on a contrasting dotted quaver melody that brings the composition back to its initial speed (and into section 3). Section 3a is characterized by a reentrance of the voice and the flutes playing the India Song melody in a further developed form. The piano also enters and gradually transforms the piece into the piano blues: by extending the 2/4 metre to common time and taking melodic fragments from the flutes. Section 3b begins when the piano is playing alone, and is basically a complete recital of the blues piano piece. Below is an example from this section, demonstrating the presence of the India song melody developed in the overture.

The most important structural element in the blues piano piece is the way it moves to a new section by a gradual speed change. The example overleaf shows the composition as it moves into the middle section - a further development of the India Song melody, even more detached from its initial form. The piano gradually slows, and the melody above the bass line now has the room to grow in complexity. It reaches a point of destination where the meter changes and the tempo stops slowing. The new melody changes the feel of the composition, although the basic pattern for the notes in the bass line is the same. This is a technique taken from the the free structural form of Indonesian Gamelan.

The synthesizer used in the performance uses three different sounds. The first is a long, pervasive sound that is not too diffuse. This is used in 1a (1-113). The second sound contrasts with the first and should be a more percussive sound that resembles a little the sound of xylophone-like gamelan instruments. The melody should be clearly recognizable and the attack not too harsh. This is used in 1b and 3a (114-218, 321-385). The third sound should resemble a medieval reed instrument such as the crumhorn or the bagpipe. This is used in 2 .




May 2008 Nachtschimmen Music-Theatre-Language Night Shades, Ghent (Belgium)
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Last modified:
May 30, 2008