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  Score preface to G. A. Rossini, Le chant des Titans © Kevin O’Regan, 2010   1 G. A. Rossini, Le chant des Titans In the midst of the creative renaissance of his final years in France, Gioachino Antonio Rossini (1792- 1868) wrote that he ‘was born for opera buffa  ’. The comical self  -irony that pervades these late works, in accordan ce with Rossini’s own observation, reveals a composer who, though great and effortless in his craft, made a telling and perhaps curious deliberation that neither he nor his music should be taken too seriously. To understand this, we may reflect on the apparent paradox that his almost sybaritic music displays: profundity achieved through lightness. That said, some commentators have described a few of Rossini’s late pieces as completely out of character, by reason of their excessive incongruity on both musical and dramatic levels. Le chant des Titans  , occurring in Rossini’s collection self  -ironically titled Pechés de Vieillesse    (‘sins of age’), is one of their significant targets. Therefore, any analysis of this piece must steer a course between explaining why it is curiously uncharacteristic of Rossini’s best music and isolating the features in it that remind us of how in general his musical style habitually and perpetually satisfies the listener. And, given Rossini’s natural and career  -wide musical  Score preface to G. A. Rossini, Le chant des Titans © Kevin O’Regan, 2010   2 talents, it may in fact be more accurate to emphasise the second of these tasks at the expense of the first. If we could say that the weakness of Le chant des Titans  , a somewhat curious conglomeration for four unison bass soloists, chorus, and an orchestra with numerically specified forces, lies in the incredible and bombastic French vocal text, by Émilien Pacini (1810- 1898) (also a collaborator with Berlioz), can Rossini’s music be said to ennoble Pacini’s effort? To understand whether or why it may do so, we must look to the text itself. There is no deep metaphysical content here, merely the crude and infantile subject matter of a mêlée of giants (Encelade, Hypérion, Coelus, and Polyphène, all sons of Titan, the brother of Saturn) getting excited. The goal of their enthusiastic usurpation is the supreme god Jupiter, whom they topple in almost uncontrollable ferocity, characteristically to the accompaniment of awesome natural phenomena. If we can have a theory about this piece, then, it is that the simple fact that T itan’s progeny succeed determinedly in their daring assault against the Olympian supreme gives the music Rossini fits to this story its inherent teleology. This reading of the music is particularly occasioned by the peculiar finality Rossini attaches to the tonality C major, which he approaches obliquely (and with perhaps monotonous regularity) from a variety of  Score preface to G. A. Rossini, Le chant des Titans © Kevin O’Regan, 2010   3 perspectives from both the flat and sharp sides of the tonal spectrum. This teleological tonal structure becomes the transcendent feature over and above any mock facile word painting or suspicious rhythmic energy that Rossini may be using to exhibit his soi-disant philosophy of self-deprecation. That said, the tempo marking governing the piece, Andantino maestoso  , though somewhat suited to the context, implicitly contains an element of ambiguous mock paradox and is surely one of Rossini’s conscious jokes. Beginning uneasily in C major, we cannot help but be in for a stab of irony when we hear the nervous rustling of the strings and bassoons followed (with the addition of trombones and ophicleide) by a gigantic thud settling on the Neapolitan, and, in further sequences, on the supertonic and flattened mediant, over the common-time bars 1 to 6. More the scene of ridicule than nobility, this opening nonetheless prepares us (if oddly) for the heroic bass entries of the four giants, underlaid by the same unitive rhythmic figure in the strings that dominates the movement. How is the basses’ material articulated? Rossini gets through what might be thought of as the first strophe of Pacini’s text (up to the point where the reader knows Jupiter’s days are numbered) fairly quickly, throughout bars 13 to 28. In this section, in terms of  Score preface to G. A. Rossini, Le chant des Titans © Kevin O’Regan, 2010   4 musical material the basses’ melody, constructed over the string ostinato  , falls into two distinct parts, each thoroughly primitive in conception. The first part, from bars 13 to 18, simply consists of a lurching tonic-dominant cell repeated in crude sequences. This is followed by an unsubtle gapped chromatic ascent (omitting B flat, or A sharp, if we take into account Rossini’s habit of suddenly respelling harmonies), which perhaps deliberately ironically sets ‘ fall of the usurper’ at its cadential point in bars 23 to 24. The bass song in bars 25 to 28 is like a codetta to the preceding truculent musical segmentation that accompanies Pacini’s scene setting.  Bars 28 and 29 see a move towards the flat side, the preceding phrase having ended on C minor. After two crude sequential arpeggiations (passing through E flat major, C minor, A flat major and F minor) in the basses’ melody, on bar 34 we find ourselves on quasi-dramatic diminished seventh harmony, moving via the Neapolitan towards a respelling in E major at bar 37. Undoubtedly there is a certain cheapness about the immediately subsequent sequential harmonies in bars 37 to 40, the almost deliberately comic lack of organic development. The B major harmony in the first half of bar 40 unsurprisingly turns into the tonic’s dominant and we are returned to the opening “theme”.    Score preface to G. A. Rossini, Le chant des Titans © Kevin O’Regan, 2010   5 From bar 41 the cheap sequencing is continued until the perfect cadence into bar 48. However, from that point on the tension increases as the harmonic articulation of the epic tone becomes more interesting. The bass of the orchestral texture ascends semitonally, largely to the accompaniment of the lurching basses’ figure dwelling on the note c' and harmonies that threaten to be ever more chromatic. Bars 52 to 54 are appealingly dramatic and eventually after some quite vocal bass leaps there is a final perfect cadence to bar 58. Then the entire section is repeated to bar 68. The coda is from bars 68 to 75 a reprise of the introduction, with the addition of bass voices doubling the bassoons, trombones, ophicleide and lower strings, and from bars 76 to 79 there is a final tutti cadential flourish in C major. Underneath bar 78 there is the inscription Laus Deo (“Praise be to God”), perhaps a little out of place given the practically pagan nature of the proceedings. The score is dated 15 September 1861, from Passy, Rossin i’s country residence. Having been commissioned by the Société des Concerts du Conservatoire (Rossini was to write music in the service of a monument to Cherubini), the piece was premiered at the Paris Opéra on 22 December, 1861.


Feb 6, 2018


Feb 6, 2018
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