Emma Lou Diemer: Santa Barbara Overture


Emma Lou Diemer (1927-) composed her popular Santa Barbara Overture in 1995 for Gisèle Ben-Dor and the Santa Barbara Symphony for their 1995-1996 season. The overture was premiered by the orchestra in 1996. The inspiration for this piece, as the title suggests, is Santa Barbara:


“There were a number of ideas and reflections that I wanted to express in writing musically about Santa Barbara.”

The Music

The opening rhythmic crescendo is led by the lower strings, with the spurt of energy setting the bar for the overture. The theme that is borne from this opening is joyful and full of life and energy. This opening segment has been described as seeing the Pacific Ocean and Santa Barbara for the first time after driving through the smog of Los Angeles. Diemer’s use of harmony is decorated by the tuned percussion here, as her use of pentatonic scales add colour to the music.

Diemer writes imitations of different genres of music to represent the diversity in Santa Barbara. From ragtime and piano honky-tonk, to Hollywood saloon music and musical puns of Spanish music, the breadth of Diemer’s writing is vast. Jaunty rhythmic cells build into playful phrases that showcase all sections of the orchestra. The bouncy main theme is passed around to muted brass and percussion who lead into an ethereal transition. Using the vibraphone and flutes, Diemer transitions into one of the loudest sections of the overture. A reprise of the opening material ensues and the loud dynamic adds to the drama of the music. The driving rhythmic opening returns right near the end of the overture, which leads to the final few bars of big orchestral sound before the flourishing finish.


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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