Non Sequitur Music

Imaginary Opera Music

Composer: Lesley Sommer
Instrumentation: Orchestra: 3233 4331 pno, 2 perc, strings
Year Composed: 1998-1999
Duration: 13 minutes (2 movements)
  • Rental: $250.00
  • Purchase: $500.00
I. Overtures
II. Recitative and Arias

Program Notes:

The title of this piece was not inspired by any particular opera, nor by the narrative of personal experience. However, the music itself is hyper-dramatic, almost operatic in its sudden and tumultuous shifts of mood and character; hence, I hope that it evokes an "imaginary opera" in the mind of each listener.

There are many different compositional processes at work in these two movements. At times, my pitch material evokes the tonality of Common Practice music; elsewhere, pitch choices are governed by serial procedures, or by the manipulations of pitch class sets. Often, these techniques coexist. Similarly, my treatment of the orchestra as a discrete entity is intentionally inconsistent. In the second movement, for example, the ensemble is often separated into small chamber groups: a piano quintet, a woodwind quartet, a brass choir. My musical influences, too, are many and varied. Stravinsky and Ives coexist with Beethoven, and Lutoslawski with Messiaen.

The first movement, Overtures, is the shorter of the two. This movement is comprised of several brief, undeveloped musical ideas, which are repeated and recombined with each other in varying orders. Often an idea begins with vigor, only to suddenly die away. The title, then, has a double meaning: it refers to the appetite-whetting snatches of melody which permeate many opera overtures, as well as to the overtures, or tentative proposals, that sometimes occur between human beings.

Overtures begins very quietly, with a "scurrying" figure played by four solo strings. This figure is a kind of musical signpost. It occurs twice more, once in the middle of the movement (this time in the woodwinds), and again at the very end (in the solo strings). The remaining musical gestures each feature a different orchestral timbre: one might hear the woodwinds play a chorale-like melody; the low brass make a bombastic complaint; the strings play in frenzied counterpoint.

In opera, a recitative is a passage in which the musical rhythms imitate the accents of speech. These passages, which often include snappy dialogue or emotional monologues, are usually followed by the more songlike and reflective aria. Thus, the second movement is entitled Recitative and Arias. However, there are no singers in my piece; instead, after a short introduction, the celli and basses "recite" a musical soliloquy, to which the other instruments of the orchestra react with varying degrees of good-natured excitement and shocked horror (note the flurries of scales in the winds, for example, and the diminished chords in the strings). Following this recitative is a series of arias, all played by different "mini-ensembles" within the orchestra. The first and most prevalent aria is played by a piano quintet (piano with string quartet). The character of this aria, in stark contrast to the stirring and unpredictable recitative, is one of serene tranquillity. However, as the piece progresses, more and more layers of music are added to the original aria until the orchestra is caught up in a tumultuous, Ivesian din. Only rarely is the piano quintet able to assert its quiet melody amidst the general uproar. Finally, the entire ensemble plays a series of fierce, repetitive punctuations, at which point all is suddenly peeled away to reveal a pulsating rhythm in the strings.

Non Sequitur Music Publishing
2112 Ontario Street
Bellingham, WA 98229
(360) 733-7145
Copyright © 1999; 2008, Non Sequitur Music Publishing
These pages are continually revised and updated.
Email any questions about this page to