Christopher Marshall - L'Homme Armé

Some Performance Problems Tackled

By Chris Marshall, Tim Reynish and Fraser Linklater of the University of Manitoba who wrote:

FRASER: I think it's a really fun piece that also has great historic roots. My students and I are quite enjoying it! I am slated to conduct the National Youth Band of Canada in spring 2006 and I plan to perform "LA" again with that group. Here goes with some of my questions / thoughs...

FRASER: At rehearsal C - thoughts on getting the 32nd notes to project (I think this should have almost a Middle Eastern "twang" to it)
CHRIS: I think of these as written out grace notes with the emphasis on this
note or the first of the group rather than the main note. It does produce a kind of exotic effect

TIM: I suspect that he changed what were apoggiaturas to 32nds and I still have an original score with the apoggiaturas. I always ask them to accent the little notes, not going more naturally to the big notes.

FRASER: F - I use some jazz articulations - quarter notes ("daht"); 8th notes ("doo"). So the initial statement by tenor sax and trombone sounds like "daht, doo - daht, doo - daht, doo - daht, doo doo n daht, daht" Straight 8ths, of course (NOT swung)
CHRIS: I'm not a conductor or performer but I'd say go with anything that
works. Several people have commented on the jazz and rock sound to
some of this piece. I don't go out of my way to listen to either but it works its way in there somehow. This whole section should have a macho strutting feel to it - youthful bravado? - with the tenor drum the 'energiser'.
TIM: I am sure you are right - I am not a jazzer so am dependant on my players for that, but a swung feel is good.

FRASER: - I - much softer so the pointillism in the upper WW is only an undercurrent; I would also take the dynamics down some on the sax and trombone "interruptions" since we have a long way to go before rehearsal L
CHRIS: Yes, the upper woodwind should be like a swarm of mosquitoes, pesky but very expendable. I'd like horn theme to be felt too. The biggest danger in this section is that it seems to sag with the quieter dynamic. This mustn't happen. I think the key lies in the tenor drum - it must keep the momentum going - I guess it's a kind of heart beat.

TIM: I think that Chris asked for the horns to be strong here. We tried it out in Louisville both ways and preferred it to be gentler, with the woodwind ghosting mf but accompagnato. Chris I think preferred the Guildhall performance, in which they really punched through the interjections, but I like it your way

FRASER: - M - I hear the piccolo, clarinet, 1st trumpet, 1st trombone melody as being lyric - therefore, I ask for a legato line against the "rock and roll" of the remainder of the group
CHRIS: Maybe, yes that would work - not too big a difference - it's all rocking and rolling every which way.

TIM: I think it is lyric, but i really am into clarity of diction, so i probably ask them to phrase it lyrically but to be a little detatched, but only a poco forte.

FRASER: -O - we don't have a contrabassoon - any thoughts on substitutions?
CHRIS: One of the big clarinets - Eb or preferably Bb, String bass I guess. If you want a part that needs transposing let me know and I'll send it to you as a pdf.
TIM: I did this recently in Norway without contra and we put it on tuba - it was okish

FRASER: - Substitutions for a tabor? Perhaps a deep sounding tenor drum?
CHRIS: Not too deep - a less resonant sound - anything Celtic would do -something that sounds vaguely exotic or ancient without sticking out too much. A tambourine on a tenor drumhead? Just a thought.
TIM: I suspect a tenor drum with a dry low sound, light stick, might do

FRASER: - R - I hear the WW as an echo of the horn chorale; quite soft, but with a mosquito-like "ping" to the attack, a bit of decay, and a slight separation between each tied note
CHRIS: Yes that might work as long as it's not too prominent - it's just the suggestion of an echo - doesn't matter if it drifts in and out. But the decay idea might work.
Tim Try it - i prefer it to just move around in a ghostly way, not much clarity contradicting what I said about clarity earlier. I start this alla breve and go into quarter notes 1 measure before t

FRASER: - Y - thoughts on balance? Also integrating the timbre of the saxophone / marimba line seems a problem.
CHRIS: It shouldn't be - it's just a bit of busyness. I'd like the theme to be heard - at least subconsciously - from memory it's in the high bassoons. But the main focus is the pitiful pleading of the oboe and the CA and Cl. Lots of pathos, lots of hairpins - desolate.

TIM: It hard, to find an oboe that can tear this out. I encourage the bassoons to be strong, they have the original tune of course and its good to hear it, I can never hear the marimba since the saxes are always struggling - hard!

W Here is your haka I always spin a yarn about the battle between Brits and Maoris in the 1840's which the Brits won of course, better rifles, and then everyone lived happily ever after, except when the All-blacks play England at rugby football, and they sing their haka and then thrash them. I am glad I am Welsh!

FRASER: - D1 - to me, this variation "floats"; the 16th notes are like leaves
CHRIS: Yes, but not blowing too fast. If we're talking images, to me it's an
old soldier in a smoky bar reminiscing - smoke or leaves - you've got the right idea. Remember crotchet here = dotted crotchet from the previous section.
TIM: Nice analogy - I always take this too fast, so that I have to lay back on the speed at G - wow - just noticed the rit in the previous 3 bars, I think I always do it in any case.

FRASER: - in the P1 variation, I conduct the 12/16 in four; the 9/16 in three; the 3/8 in 1 beat per bar; and the 5/8 in two beats (2 + 3) - this seems pretty straight ahead
CHRIS: Can't comment - couldn't conduct to save myself!
TIM: That's what I do - do you play J1 in one or 3 - it is harder in 1 but it gives them a little more freedom like a Schubert or Mahler ländler, its easier for the 12/16 to work; I have heard it recently beaten in 3 and it somehow missed the lilt of the Viennese but it was together.

FRASER: - after S1 - the rhythms are really tricky here, nevertheless I think they should sound "normal", almost as if the march accompaniment was "wrong" - any thoughts?
CHRIS: Yes. I guess it's a 'morning after a hard night' scenario. But the effect will be lost if the march is faster than crotchet =120.
TIM: Again a nice thought - its a little Shostakovich march which ends far more complex than expected. Talking about wrong accompaniment, do you know the Marcel Wengler march, also published by Maecenas, really a very funny spoof march.

FRASER: - T1 - the Eb trumpet is high and exposed - my trumpet section is not super-strong; any thoughts on alternatives (an octave lower?; a different instrument?)
CHRIS: A band in the UK uses a miniature Bb for this. The trumpets and euphonium should definitely be solo - only that way will you get the pathos this variation requires. And make sure the marimba can be heard - slightly harder beaters if necessary - it's almost like a third soloist - not quite but almost.
TIM: It is hard - in Florida recently they played it incredibly well, in one breath on a piccolo trumpet. It would be a pity to play it an octave down, would an Eb clarinet have the carrying power?

I think there is an issue at A2 - D2 if the players just play it straight, its very hard to hear the canons, so I encourage them to really sing it and over-phrase, so that the canons come in and out of focus.

FRASER: - where does the Maori War "Haka" take place in the piece? I assume this is some kind of a yell to frighten the enemy? Is this the beginning and ending, perhaps?
CHRIS: First appearance bar 201 then recalled in the final few bars in the
upper WW and brass.

FRASER: - I'm assuming (hoping) that the 16th notes pulse remains constant in the latter part of the piece, which means that the tempo is constant from D2 to the end - correct?
CHRIS: The speed of the 16ths are absolutely constant. This gives the impression that each succeeding section is faster.

FRASER: - before and after E2 - thoughts on getting the obbligato lines (oboe / tenor sax; flute / Eb clarinet / alto sax lines to project)?
CHRIS: They should cut through easy enough - probably the sax tone will predominate. This is the same pleading motif that occured before - now it's superimposed on the celebratory victory march. By the way, this should be crotchet = 120, not faster.
Tim I just ask them to scream it out - in a way it is so chaotic that it does not really matter

FRASER: - F2 - I conduct in 4 but then go into two at measure 569 (6/8 time)
TIM: Thats what I used to do, but you will probably find that it is easy to go into 2 straight away once they really know it.

FRASER: - measure 578 is almost a "jazz lick" in the contrabassoon, trombones - I like to bring this out
CHRIS: Great - it needs that.
TIM: I never noticed that bass line, too busy trying to get the 16ths to join up smoothly

FRASER: - at J2 (help!!) I do a small, easy two beat for the 6/16 and then a large, choppy two beat for the 2/8 bar - we are trying speaking the rhythm, playing the rhythm on a single note, eliminating the ties, etc.
CHRIS: I remember Tim saying something like 'Idaho, Idaho, Mississipi. It
seemed to work well!

TIM: I used to do 2 slow beats of 1 and a faster beat of 1, but watching Bobby Adams in Florida do it in 2, I now do what you and he do.

FRASER: - K2 - after one rehearsal of stupidity on my part, I now believe that I should be conducting in four beats (that is, conducting in 12/16 for the upper WW) while helping out the chorale melody with my left hand - percussion 2 and 3 can tough it out for themselves (watching to try to line up downbeats). Any thoughts on this? If conducting in four is the way to go, would it be any help to re-write the percussion 2 and 3 parts in 12/16 time?
CHRIS: My instinct says NOT IN FOUR under any circumstances. Maybe one hand in 4 the other in 3? The percussion riff doesn't fit into 12/16. It's closer to 16/16.

FRASER: - K2 - balance. I want to hear the upper WW jig - to this end, I've written out an alto saxophone part from the beginning of K2, rather than waiting until after M2 to take them out of the chorale and insert them into the jig - any thoughts? Also, what do you think, about adding percussion 1 on xylophone more than it presently is? CHRIS: No! Play as written. It works well. You're not supposed to hear every
note of the woodwind. Strengthening the percussion 2 and 3 will help the woodwind.

TIM: I never change scoring except sometimes the horns in Egmont or the end of Dvorak 7 to follow tradition; I do change dynamics to make a passage work. Fred Speck of Louisville beats the 12/16 and it is very effective but I leave them to fit in, with disastrous results usually, just do not have the brain to do both or to go with the wind. It seems to me that it is essential for the brass not to get out - I have heard a professional orchestra at the end of Young Person's Guide getting out so its a little dangerous

FRASER: - measure 631, shift back into a three pattern and let the quadruplet folks tough it out?
CHRIS: Back to Tim.

TIM: Yes

FRASER: - O2 - here and at the beginning, I like to make quite abrupt releases on the altered dominant chord to allow the trombone to come through more easily - it also seems a somewhat brutal, chaotic sound here so I think chopped releases seem appropriate.
CHRIS: Maybe.

FRASER: - final note - long-ish with a resonate release
CHRIS: I would say so - yes - it needs a very definite end.

FRASER: - I'm assuming (hoping) that the 16th notes pulse remains constant in the latter part of the piece, which means that the tempo is constant from D2 to the end - correct?
TIM: I agree with all of that, though probably do not achieve it with the clarity that you do.

FRASER: - had Christopher Marshall ever heard the Karl Jenkins' L'Homme Armé: A Mass for Peace?
CHRIS: Nope - don't think so.

FRASER: - Also, to me the fourth variation (piacevole) with the alto saxophone obbligato sounds like a 1990s CD with jazz saxophonist Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble - has Marshall been influenced by this?
CHRIS: Others have commented on the similarity - in the back of my mind I do remember hearing and being intrigued by a work with male choir and sax in a cathedral-like acoustic - so I'm pretty sure that's where I will have got the idea. Must get it and have a proper listen one of these days.

FRASER: - what connection did the Guildhall group have with the piece that they performed the premiere - why not the Royal Northern College of Music?
CHRIS: Tim commissioned L'Homme for that group to play at the WASBE conference in Sweden. A very fine group.

Dr. Fraser Linklater, Conductor
School of Music
University of Manitoba

Christopher Marshall - composer

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