• Gunther Schuller
  • Impromptus and Cadenzas (1990)

  • Associated Music Publishers Inc (World)
  • ob(ca), cl, bn, hn, vn, vc
  • 20 min

Programme Note

Composer Note:

I was commissioned to write this piece during my second year as Composer-in-Residence at the Chamber Music Society, where I hold the Elise L. Stoeger Composer’s Chair. I wish to dedicate Impromtpus and Cadenzas to the memory of Elise L. Stoeger.

Impromtpus and Cadenzas is composed for a sextet of four winds and two strings: oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, violin, and cello, essentially three upper register instruments and three middle-low instruments. I have used these distinctions to both isolate each of these instruments in solo (or in one case duo) cadenzas, and alternately in various combinations of mixed ensembles. Thus the instrumental, i.e. sonoric, and registral textures are constantly in kaleidoscopic flux.

The work is in five movements plus an epilogue, all played virtually without pause. The Impromptus—sections in a somewhat free, almost improvisatory manner—alternate with the solo Cadenza passages. The mood of the Impromptus also varies from a Lament in the second movement, to a Capriccio in the third, and a Romanza (for the horn) in the fourth, to cite but three examples.

The first Impromptu, marked Allegro precipitando, starts with a burst of fortissimo rhythmic energy evolving within seconds into a cadenza accompagnato for the clarinet: mercurial, flashy, virtuosic in character. But as the tempo and intensity of the music subside, it leads directly to Movement II, Adagio lamentoso. Here the cello and English horn sing their sorrowful song, later to emerge into a duo Cadenza for these two instruments. It is at first an erratic, complex, angry music which suddenly quiets down to leave the cello alone in a soulful, at times passionately singing solo Cadenza.

Movement III is a Scherzo Impromptu, marked Capriccioso, dominated by the winds of the ensemble. Now the bassoon has its Cadenza showing mostly its lesser-known lyrical side.

The horn Romanza follows. Here in effect Impromptu and Cadenza are combined, rolled into one as it were. Soft singing multiphonics in the horn provide an almost prayer-like ending.

In Movement V, marked Allegro ironico, it is the violin’s turn to display its wares. Its Cadenza is all parody until the wispy ending.

A short Epilogue for the entire ensemble recapitulates briefly the five previous movements, gradually moving from serenity and quiescence to animated agitation, ending with the same burst of precipitando energy with which the work began.

—Gunther Schuller