Alfred Reed: Second Suite for Band (Latino Mexicana)

Context

Alfred Reed was born in 1921 in New York. He has composed lots of music for a variety of ensembles including concert and wind bands, symphonic orchestras and choral groups. Throughout his long and prosperous lifetime, Reed traveled around the world as a guest conductor for various ensembles, with South America, Asia and Europe all being extensively explored by the composer. This is perhaps one key reason as to why Reed is such a popular choice in wind band repertoire, with his Second Suite for Band being no exception.

 

The Music

Subtitled Latino Mexicana, this suite of music has four contrasting movements, all based on Latin-American dances:

I. San Montuno

II. Tango (“Sargasso Serenade”)

III. Guaracha

IV. Paso Doble (“A La Corrida!”)

 

Movement I – San Montuno

The first movement, entitled ‘San Montuno’, is an upbeat and energetic movement which is not only really enjoyable to play, but fun and exciting to listen to. There is a build-up of texture as a small motif is heard at the beginning of the piece, and this leads into a Latino rhythmic section. The main melodies are passed around the band, which creates lots of different textures and variations on the melody lines. Each section of the band is utilised within this movement, with the clarinets being at the forefront at the beginning of the movement, but then the upper brass begins leading the new melodic themes part-way through the movement.

The percussion section are vital throughout this movement. With many different exciting percussive instruments being used, it makes this movement true to Latino roots, as well as providing a clear rhythm for the rest of the ensemble.

 

Movement II – Tango

The second movement, ‘Tango (‘Sargasso Serenade’), is a dramatic contrast to the previous movement. This slow dream-like movement, which has a delicate Tango accompaniment, offers a different experience of Latin music. It begins with a whimsical clarinet solo, which leads in with the upper woodwinds playing a pulsating scalic passage. The trombones enter with the delicate Tango rhythm, which is a remains in the background for the rest of the movement. The upper woodwinds play a long and flowing melody that soars above the consistent rhythm beneath.

Tuned percussion is also used to create that dream-like effect, with the glockenspiel perhaps being heard the most prominently within this movement. This is the only movement when upper brass are not heard all that much, with the exception to a couple of chords in the tutti section in the middle of the movement. After this section, the band settles back into the comfortable Tango rhythm and a variation of the main melody is heard in the upper winds once more.

 

Movement III – Guaracha 

‘Guaracha’ is the third movement and it starts with a poignant call and response motif from the percussion section, which sets the pacy tempo for this movement. Guaracha is a genre of popular music that originates from Cuba and its fast tempo is one of the most attractive features. This movement contrasts from the nonchalant Tango previously heard, with the main melody being rather catchy.

Firstly in the lower winds, the main theme is thus passed around the ensemble until a fully orchestrated section is heard nearer the end of the movement. The movement is driven by various quaver-dominated cells of music, which come together throughout the movement to create a menagerie of different motifs. There is a slightly more lyrical motif within the middle sections, however underneath these melodies, the quaver patterns can be heard underneath which creates a subtle effect. The movement ends with offbeats that build up throughout the ensemble to end on a tonic chord at the end.

 

Movement IV – Paso Doble

The final movement is a triumphant Paso Doble, and from the very beginning this movement is powerful, exciting and victorious in character. The start of the movement reveals the compelling musical abilities of various instruments of the ensemble. A typical Spanish fanfare motif is first heard in the trumpet, and this is then preceded by a similar theme in the clarinet and then in the flute. The tempo then settles into a fast-paced march-like feel, which is typical of a paso doble. The duple-meter makes this movement provocative and the fast melodic passages heard in the upper winds are incredibly precise and exciting. These sections are interrupted by a brass fanfare, which, after the trumpets have sounded, the tempo and rhythm fit back into a driven section which is very march-like. The movement ends with a build-up of the main fanfare, it then is completed by an octave drop on the tonic, which creates a very dramatic effect.

This blog is dedicated to all the fantastic musicians that I have played with whilst in The University of Sheffield Wind Orchestra.

Happy Reading!

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