Eric Ewazen: Ballade, Pastorale and Dance
American composer and teacher Eric Ewazen composed his Ballade, Pastorale and Dance in the winter of 1992-93. Commissioned by David Wakefield and Barli Nugent, to whom the piece is also dedicated, this chamber work premiered in Aspen in the summer of 1993. Ewazen writes about his interesting choice to write for piano, horn and flute:
“The combination of flute, horn and piano produces a chamber music ensemble with wonderful possibilities in terms of contrasting colors and textures, resulting in a kaleidoscopic world of alternating moods and dynamics.”
Set into three contrasting movements, Ballade, Pastorale and Dance takes the listener on quite the musical journey.
Movement I – Ballade
The ominous opening of the Ballade sets the scene for the horn to present the main theme. The nuanced dissonances rooted in the piano part is decorated by the horn and flute as Ewazen pushes through the rich texture created. The piano stays rather separate from the trio, with the two wind instruments playing fragments of melody in unison, as well as interweaving their lines together. As the intensity builds and the climax comes to fruition, the music moves quickly into a frantic chase between the instruments.
Flourishes from the horn paired with bold and dramatic piano chords creates quite the statement, whereas the flute’s shining moment comes in the central section where the music becomes broad, lyrical and most importantly, syncopated. Ewazen’s rich style is thrust to the forefront of this movement as the trio moves together with urgency to reach its final destination. The Ballade concludes with a reprise of the opening call.
Movement II – Pastorale
The beautiful second movement predominantly features long lyrical melodies from the horn and flute. Ewazen stretches their ranges to create big dramatic leaps and emotional changes within the music. The warm harmonic language creates a pastoral feel, with the composer describing this movement as having “a gentle impressionistic feel.”
Although the tempo is slower than the opening movement, there is still a sense of flow and movement within the music. Seamless transitions highlight Ewazen’s flair for arrangement and his handling of melodic content. The soft dynamics that are scattered throughout add to the style of the movement, creating light and shade at every turn. Pastorale concludes quietly.
Movement III – Dance
The lively finale is based on a Celtic dance theme. Clear-cut rhythms penetrate the shifting texture to create a peppy dance-inspired piece. The piano becomes less of an accompaniment partner in this movement and properly intertwines its part into the mix. The short changes in character creates a buzz around the finale, making the listener hone in on Ewazen’s captivating style. After a slow central section, Dance concludes an exciting coda that ends in a bold tutti chord.
Ⓒ Alex Burns