Vocalise by André Previn
In this piece, the melodies are loosely structured and do not repeat. This might not work so well in some genres, but it works here. Instead of being intrigued by a solid and recurring melody, I was intrigued by the many different ideas for melodies that Previn had. The melodic line was never anything too flashy or inappropriate. The line sometimes became rather stagnant, but it was acceptable because that allowed the piece to breathe and for the listener to hear the entirety of what is happening at that moment. The lines always had nice development and always ended with a strong close, which was enjoyable. There were times, though, when melody was seemingly non-existent. There was always an important line to follow, but due to textural changes throughout the piece, some lines got much more emphasis than others when they may not have needed to be. This will be discussed more with timbre. In this setting, the melodic line was but a servant to the ever-changing harmonies, and a quality servant at that. While not always the most intriguing part to the piece, the melody did its job in not distracting the listener from the beauty underneath.
Previn shows his true compositional prowess through the harmonic language of the piece. No matter what the texture was, there was always a clear harmonic development occurring, and it never ceased its expansion to revert to something bland or easy. Many short trios or quartets will always have a spot of relapse where development is stalled by something less successful that takes over. Previn has the ability to trust his harmonic language enough to rely on it throughout, instead of giving way to a possible dysfunctional melodic section. In this way, the piece is quite coherent and understandable. Beyond that, the surprising shifts in tonal centers by use of chromatic modulations takes the listener’s breath away. It is always wonderful as a listener to get to a point where expectations are meaningless, so that what is left in front of you becomes flawless. Incredible creativity.
Each instrument worked together extremely well in order to create a concrete mood for the piece. Whereas the awe and amazement came mostly from the harmony, the deeper emotional moods of loss, pain, and relief come from the timbre. It starts off brilliantly by hiding the piano away and letting thee voice and cello carry the harmonic development. As soon as it may have sounded like a dead-end, the piano finally enters as splashes of color, effectively taking over the harmony as it rightfully should. The cello has the most interesting part throughout the piece, weaving in and out of the different sections while also adding harmonic support. There were times when I thought the melody was in the cello, yet it was overshadowed by what the voice was doing. The voice tends to do that to a texture, and while it was not overly annoying, there were times when it could have dropped out for the cello. Other than that I loved the decision to use voice. This could have just as easily been a purely instrumental timbre, but voices allow most every listener to better relate to the moods of the music. I also liked the idea of staying on an “ooh” vowel and not adding lyrics. Lyrics can be the greatest asset to a piece, but only if they can match the work of art created by the music. Words would have taken away from the mood and made it less ambiguous, which would not have been as enjoyable.
Since I am rating the true greatness of the music, this piece will slip a bit here since it is not the most recognizable or popular of its genre. Still, from what I gather this piece has gotten a good amount of performances within its 20 years of being around, and should continue to get more. Previn is an uncommonly well-rounded musician, being known in several different circles. If you have not listened to his music, concert or jazz, I suggest you do. He is not the most well-known, but he has had his hand in many different pots. Again, this is the least important category, so the score is not incredibly affected by Previn being in the shadows of other modern composers.
Final Score: 132/180
Requested by Zach Siegel.