Aidan Caron’s wind ensemble work “Norwegian Portraits” is a raucous battle cry of a fanfare that elicits images of vikings and natural horn calls. It would be well-suited at the beginning of a concert for wind ensemble.
The work opens with a loud clamor, much like a bullhorn calling an army to assemble. Here the use of stomping and shouting add to the battle cry:
The piece then proceeds to switch between sections of the main theme and interludes in a rondo-like fashion. These sections are all distinct, and achieve typical wind ensemble orchestrations, with Nordic flair. The thing to note, though, is the development of the theme:
- Measure 3, C minor, tempo “Heavy, Half note = 44”, eighth note starting duration; high woodwind register
- Measure 12, C minor, Half note = 80, quarter note starting duration, low-register orchestration
- Measure 30, C minor, Half note = 80, still, quarter note starting duration; re-orchestrated to a higher register
- Measure 70, C minor, tempo “Moving Quickly” (no mm.), eighth note starting duration; low register until
- Measure 78, C minor, tempo “Moving Quickly” (no mm.), still, eighth note starting duration; middle register
- Measure 90, D minor, tempo “Moving Quickly” (no mm.), still, eighth note starting duration; full brass range of registers; other bass/tenor-range tone colors intermixed
- Measure 116, D minor, tempo “Wild (Percussive Storm), Quarter note = 160”, eighth note starting duration; full brass range of registers; other bass/tenor-range tone colors intermixed
- Measure 144, D minor, tempo “Wild (Percussive Storm), Quarter note = 160”, eighth note starting duration; low register. (It is worth noting that a countermelody established in measure 48 accompanies the melody here, with the trumpets and horns screaming it.)
- Measure 161, tempo “Presto, Quarter note = 200”, starting duration would be quarter note, but is actually an eighth because it is the closing/cadential figure in the melody, and thus does not start at the beginning of the line; low brass moving to
- Measure 170, tempo Quarter note = 96 poco ritardando to Quarter note = 54, molto rallentando to fermata, starting duration would be quarter note, but is actually an eighth because it is the closing/cadential figure in the melody, and thus does not start at the beginning of the line; tutti until low brass, low woodwinds, and percussion close it out, like a final battle roar
As one can see, this is a Bolero-type piece; a single theme orchestrated and re-orchestrated, repeating, with a countermelody and rondo-like interludes.
This piece is successful not only because of the wind ensemble orchestration that will sound even better in real life, but because it is a subtle but effective acceleration of the piece, from slow beginnings to a dramatic climax, leaving a dark devastation at the end. This pull on mood and flow draws us in, and makes us forget in part that we are hearing the same thing over and over again. However, I would be cautious about this, as at times it could sound a bit repetitive were it not for the orchestration changes and countermelody/interludes. I would also be careful that the high register doesn’t speak much, and may be obscured.
In all, this brass- and percussion-heavy work is an effective war-cry of a wintry past, a time of swords and shields, arrows and longboats, fire and ice. I would suggest that the composer incorporate more non-traditional elements and extended techniques into their next piece, as a way to continually stretch their development. I would also encourage them to keep up the good engraving, but try their hand at graphic notation too. Perhaps the next work they write will be one for full orchestra, maybe a dramatic work or work for dance a la Stravinsky?
As always, here are my 3 recommendations for listening:
- Derek Sherinian and Yngwie Malmsteen, “Viking Massacre”, for another take on axe-wielding berserkers
- Shostakovich, Symphony No. 10 in E Minor, Op. 93: II. Allegro, for another onslaught of notes in a militaristic style
- John Scofield, “The Red One”, for an opposite approach to maximalist forces, orchestration, and style