At some point while I was studying Baroque music someone mentioned the great Holst work, The Planets, which led to my idea of composing The Music of the Spheres, in which each planet would be presented in the style of a specific Baroque instrumental dance form. The results,
i. The Pavanes of Jupiter [5:00]
ii. Mars, After the Battle [6:15]
iii. The Mercury Gigue [4:10]
iv. The Basses Danse of Neptune and his Kingdom [4:20]
v. The Waltzes of Saturn [5:45]
vi. The Uranus Chaconne [6:00]
vii. The Venus Sarabande of Love [5:10]
viii. The Earth Loure, A World Holding Hands [3:40]
Another very large project followed my discussion with Craig Dabelstein over the incredible 24 Preludes and Fugues of Bach and the similar set of pieces by Chopin. Craig then challenged me to write 24 Preludes for Band, again one for each tonality possible within the octave.
I had always felt there was a different atmosphere between the keys of, say, G Major and F Major, even though the traditional theory of tonality held that they are identical in construction, except for the beginning pitch. And since my fundamental concept of music is based on melody, I had never given much further thought to the varying emotional qualities of tonality. It therefore came as a surprise to me that in first thinking of a specific tonality, say Eb Minor, the emotional nature of the tonality itself would suggest melody.
I only thought of this project as a theoretical exercise and had never thought of any of my resulting 24 Preludes, each being of about 2 l/2 minutes of music, as being intended for performance. However, were I still an active conductor I can think of occasions where the performance of one of the Preludes might set the stage for the composition which follows. For example, if I were going to perform the Ponchielli Sinfonia in Bb Minor, which begins with single isolated soft short notes, like little cat’s feet, perhaps by first performing beforehand my Prelude in Bb Minor it might better set the stage for the listener to be in touch with this opening unaccompanied melody, which as it stands is a bit confusing on first hearing.
Another example where I might add a Prelude were I still conducting, would be the great Hammersmith for band by Holst. This late work, composed decades after the Suites known to band directors today, seems to reflect an entirely different Holst, indeed I have often wondered if it reflected his discovery of Mahler, with its rapidly shifting tonalities and juxtaposed varying fragments of melody. The very beginning of this work, with its rapid alternation of two very different tonalities, F Minor and E Major, comes to mind. The traditional explanation for this, first given by Holst’s daughter, was that this music reflects the constantly changing currents of the Thames River. But again, were I to perform this masterpiece today I might first perform my brief Prelude in F Minor to establish the correct beginning perspective for the listener to follow what comes next.
My repertoire of smaller compositions include a Jubilaum, in a lyrical march style, intended for use as an encore.
Another composition for a special occasion is my Dances in Honor of Mother’s Past. My mother received her Bachelor of Music degree in 1926 and at that time it was required that each applicant must produce an original composition! I have her composition and it was from there that I took a melody which forms the basis of this work in her honor. A nice work to perform on Mother’s Day.
I composed one concerto, for solo alto saxophone and band in an earlier American folk music style, a choice made as this composition followed soon after the death of my mother. In the second movement the band members only sing, accompanied by keyboard percussion and with counterpoint from the solo saxophone, a famous Civil War song, “Before the Battle, Mother.” This is very moving music and requires a saxophone soloist who is very musical! A “doubler” who just presses down the required keys can never communicate this music. Don’t even think about it!
My two most recent compositions were inspired by the famous Aaron Copland’s Lincoln Portrait. These are Jefferson and the American Dream, for band and narrator and the Washington on the Birth of a Nation, for band and narrator, taken from the text of Washington’s Farewell Address. Each of these works consists of comments which seem very relevant today, separated by music from their period.
If I were still an active university conductor today I would program one of these works. For the narrator role I would invite the university president, who is always someone who loves to speak before an audience. Think about what that would do for concert PR. Think about what that would do to foster support for the budget of the music department from the administration. Who else in the university could match this for “making the day” of the university president?
All these compositions are available through Craig Dabelstein’s amazing catalog, “Maxime’s: Music of Distinction” at concertbandmusicstore.com.