Viola da Gamba – Duets: Ross Edwards, Rain Dance

April 15, 2009

Ross Edwards, Rain Dance (1978).
Source: Steve Rosenberg, The Recorder Consort (Boosey and Hawkes), one of the Ten Little Duets; Armidale: Orpheus Music OMP 023 (ca 1982) for SS/AA recorders.

I hesitate to say this is a work fixed in the repertoire of viol players in Australia, despite it getting a public airing or two when played by the Sydney viol consort Quintessence in the 1990s. It is a very effective piece for two treble viols, adapted from an edition published for soprano or treble recorders.

What appeals is it Asian modal quality and the strong use of – for viols in D anyway – open A and E strings in the lower part. It is all of 32 bars long, with a tempo marking of crochet at approx. 132. Much is made of cross-rhythms and quaver runs – the former the splash of rain drops and the latter the run of water perhaps. But most interesting of all is the structure of repeated two-bar motifs, very
reminiscent of Spanish Baroque keyboard music – Seixas and Soler – creating an ever-changing kaleidoscope of sound:
Bars 1 and 2 are repeated in 3 and 4.
Bar 5 is repeated as bar 6.
Bars 9 and 10 are repeated in 11 and 12.
Bars 13-15 are the same as Bars 5-7.
Bar 16 is a transition.
Bars 17-20 represent a different treatment of the theme.
Bars 21-23 are a repeat of 17-19.
Bar 25 is repeated in bar 26.
Bar 27-28 are a variation again.
Bar 29 is repeated in bar 30.
Bar 31 is a repeat of bar 27.
Bar 32 is a final cadence very similar to the end of bar 9.
This bar-by-bar analysis is academic, but I wonder to what extent performers need to create interest with changes in dynamics and articulation – surely it won’t be homogenous throughout? Like a 17thc duet fantasia by the likes of Whyte or Coleman, it relies solely on the two unadulterated vocal lines for its simplicity and strength.

Were there but more contemporary Australian pieces for viols of this ilk and viol players sufficiently interested in contemporary musical language to play them!

Note: See Benjamin Thorn’s profile of Ross Edwards (including comments on Rain Dance) on the Orpheus Music (Armidale, NSW) website, http://www.orpheusmusic.com.au

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