Deems Taylor had great love for the musical structures of Western music, and his Three Century Suite is a salute to the dance suites developed in the 16th century, which usually consisted of four movements of rhythmic variety.
Three Century Suite is a variant of the Baroque dance suite. It has five sections instead of the usual four, adding an introductory prelude (the Pavan). In addition, its final section is a waltz – an unusual and unique variation of the form. The five sections are: Pavan, Saraband, Jig, Rigadoon, and Bartholomew Fair. Bartholomew Fair is the Waltz, with a double time recapitulation that is almost reminiscent of a Can-Can.
This is the prelude, and as such has no established formal structure. It is rondo-esque, in that the main theme repeats but goes off in a different direction each time it repeats — whether it be melodically, harmonically, instrumentally, or all three — creating a musically integrated movement with a complex and absorbing development. It is a slow, stately movement, which starts in G major, modulates to E flat, then to A flat, and finally back to G in an imposing climactic ending.
This has an ABA form, with a haunting mysterious theme in D minor, first stated by the oboe. The A section is in triple meter, while the B section is in 4/4, which breaks the traditional form. It is also in D major, further contributing to the contrast with the A section. The original theme is restated by the strings, winds, and horns, before quietly ending in the major.
Then there is a twenty second transition in a rapid 12/8, starting softly, quickly building to a triple forte. This “gathering storm” sets the stage for the jig.
A faster, light-hearted, swirling 6/8 with lovely interweaving melodies. Here, as so often, the composer has different parts playing fully developed melodies that just work together. This is not counterpoint exactly, I would call it counter-melody, and it is one of Taylor’s trademarks.
Again, the theme is first stated by the oboe, harkening us back to the opening of the Saraband. But we are in 2/4 now, not 3/4, and the feeling is quite different. Again, the key changes and the complex orchestration creates a forward momentum that sustains our interest and heightens our expectations, until suddenly, we burst into the joyous last segment.
The transition from single winds playing piano to a tutti double forte unmistakably announces that we have turned the corner into Bartholomew Fair. This is nothing less than a celebration, a musical exclamation of sheer joy. Appropriately, it is a waltz, one of the most romantic and exhilarating dances there is. The music develops into a lovely double melody by strings and winds, and then returns back to the main joyous theme. Then a slight transition; a slight fanfare — and just when you thought it couldn’t get more exuberant, it leaps into a final fifty second recapitulation of the waltz theme in double time, modulating from E flat major to C major. This builds to a climax, which resolves into a short conclusion, which ends the piece.
© NAVONA RECORDS LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Navona Records offers listeners a fresh taste of today's leading innovators in orchestral, chamber, instrumental, and experimental music as well as prime pieces of classic repertoire. Our music is meticulously performed by the finest musicians and handpicked to ensure the most rewarding listening experience.
223 Lafayette Road
North Hampton NH 03862
603.758.1718 x 151