• Gunther Schuller
  • Deaï (Encounters) (1978)

  • Associated Music Publishers Inc (World)
  • Three orchestras and conductors -- Orch I (on-stage): 4(pic)4(ca)6(2bcl,cbcl)4(cbn)/5541/timp.2perc/cel.2hp.pf/str Orch II (off-stage): 222(bcl)2/2220/perc/hp/str Orch III (off-stage): 2(pic)2(ca)22/2210/perc/cel/str
  • 2 Sopranos, Mezzo Soprano, Alto, Tenor, 2 Baritones, Bass
  • 35 min

Programme Note

Commissioned by: Boston Symphony Orchestra
World Premiere: June 6, 1978

Composer Note:

The idea of writing a two-orchestra piece is enormously enticing to a composer. It has been since Mozart’s and Haydn’s day, and the idea can be approached in countless different ways. In my case, the actual locus of the world premiere, the very spacious Bunka Kaikan concert hall in Tokyo, had a specific influence on my initial conception of the piece. Hearing—almost by accident—that the backstage area in Bunka Kaikan was quite generous triggered in me the idea that the Toho Orchestra should start off its life in this piece backstage and, as it developed in my mind, that it would gradually, one by one, so to speak, infiltrate the Boston Symphony (almost in a kind of symbolic replay of the fact that in the last two decades an astonishing number of Japanese musicians have found their way into American orchestras), until at the end of the piece both orchestras are united on stage in a sort of symbolic musical handshake.

Not that the backstage orchestra and the onstage orchestra are cast in initially adversary or oppositional roles and that they gradually make peace and come together—that could be another scenario for another piece—nor that the Japanese backstage orchestra would perform in some traditional Japanese or Oriental idiom while the Bostonians would uphold the Western tradition (none of this would make sense in a second performance somewhere else)—and that could be still another scenario for another composition--,but rather that the two orchestral entities are in a sort of dialogue with each other whose content and tone become increasingly unified and finally one.

While the piece was still in the conceptual stage, it occurred to me that I could actually divide my backstage orchestra into two smaller orchestras and that this would now give me some fascinating three-way antiphonal possibilities as well as an interesting opportunity to work with foreground and background relationships-0-we would call that perspective in painting—and with other ‘spatial’ concepts.

I also became aware that the strains of the three backstage orchestras of Mozart’s Don Giovanni kept floating into my consciousness with a starling persistence, although first I tried to resist this delightful temptation, I soon realized that I was inexplicably ‘hooked’ on the idea of incorporating this Don Giovanni music into my score in some way. Maybe it was just that it is the ultimate example of multiple-orchestra music; or maybe it was that I had played and loved the Don Giovanni music so many times during my years as a horn player in the Metropolitan Opera orchestra. Whatever it was, it wouldn’t go away, and as flashes of Mozart’s famous minuet (and the other two tunes played by the other two stage orchestras) flat in and out of the first movement of Deai, now far, now close, now visible, no disappearing, like whitecaps on a breezy seascape.

Thus Deai starts backstage with far-away sounds—including those of Mozart—wafted across the foreground to the audience. Eventually the onstage orchestra joins in one by one (the first entries are those of a cymbal roll and the contrabass clarinet) and in turn becomes more and more involved in the musical discourse. After two or three intermediate climaxes, in the least of which the timpani reiterate the Mozart minuet theme, the music subsides, making a transition—without pause—to the second movement.

By now the burden of the musical argument has shifted to the main onstage orchestra, although a reduced complement of backstage ensembles remains to provide distant commentary on the primary foreground activities. This (second) movement is an ‘old-fashioned’ Adagio of the kind (and I dare to hope of the quality) that every respectable nineteenth-century symphony used to have. I also returned to a simple idea far-too-long missing from twentieth-century music (except for examples in the music of Shostakovich, Bartòk, and Britten, and a handful of earlier ‘conservatives’ like Rachmaninoff, Delius, and Bax), namely, the long, protracted major solo statement. The four main protagonists of this Adagio discourse are (in order of succession) solo clarinet, solo doublebass, the first violin section, and the solo horn. The first three use the same melodic material with some variation and embellishments added in the accompaniment as well as the melody, while the horn—after a big orchestral climax—furnishes a coda which also functions as a transition to movement III (again without interruption). It might be of interest to note that the slow movement theme is itself a distant and slower relation of Mozart’s minuet.

The integration of the erstwhile backstage orchestras is now virtually complete. The final stragglers-in join the onstage forces during the early part of the third movement so as to be present at the grad finale. This ‘scherzo’ section moves in rapid, abrupt exchanges between six selected ensembles (sonoric groupings would be another way of describing these): 1) high strings (violins, violas); 2) low strings and winds (cellos, basses, contrabassoon, bass clarinets, tubs, etc.); 3) two harps and piano; 4) the woodwinds (from piccolo to contrabass clarinet); 5) four horns; 6) brass (trumpets and trombones). This is given cohesion and clarity by the fact that each section sticks to and reiterates its own material. Eventually, what were at first successive statements by each ensemble, as in an ever more heated argument; begin to overlap and to interrupt each other, finally all ‘talking at the same time’.

At this point the full force of the percussion section, a section which has been withheld from the fray until now, interrupts the vivacious argument, seemingly and momentarily pulling everyone ‘into line.’ It is not successful; there is more strife. With timpani and percussion forming a solidly anchored pedal point, the brass section conducted by a second conductor (in the first performances the composer) pulls away from the strings, woodwinds, and main conductor. But even this musical tug of war is resolved in a final, full, double-orchestra apotheosis of unity. Both orchestras are now finally and really united, bursting forth in hymn-like, exuberant song.

— Gunther Schuller