The Song of Queztecoatl

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Lou Harrison


General Info

Year: 1941
Duration: c. 6'
Difficulty: 4 (see Ratings for explanation)
Publisher: MFP
Cost: Score and Parts - $12.50


Instrumentation

Player I: water glasses (5), woodblocks (5), sistrums
Player II: cowbells (5), brake drums (5), wooden rattle
Player III: snare drum, guiro, glass wind chimes, triangle, gong, tam-tam
Player IV: tom-toms (5), bass drum

Errata

None discovered thus far.

Program Notes

This is a dramatic, striking composition, historical in the development of the percussion orchestra. It is one of the first pieces for such an ensemble set in the form of a "character piece," a composition with an extramusical association to give it point and atmosphere. It thereby transcended an arguable weakness in Harrison's percussion music till then, a tendency towards abstraction. This work, in contrast to his earlier pieces, is immediate, visceral, and clear in form and construction.

Lou Harrison (born in 1917 in Portland, OR) became a percussion ensemble pioneer partly by necessity -- he could make money writing for modern dance companies and use of percussion overcame problems of lack of space and shortage of money -- and partly by his own predilection. He had become enamored of the many ethnic musics that were available for free or cheaply in San Francisco around 1940 and collected ethnic musical instruments, including percussion, which he supplemented by things found in junk yards (e.g. brake drums and wash tubs) that proved to have good musical qualities.

He recalls that there was a strong interest in California at the time about the history and cultures of Mexico. He came to own a full-color reproduction of materials from Mexican codices. Harrison found the color reproductions fascinating, and decided to write music concerning the life of Quetzalcoatl, the "feathered serpent" hero-god depicted in some of the pages in his book. He was also inspired by a film he had seen, pioneering the idea of using a movie camera to sweep across art works and editing pictures of paintings together to the accompaniment of soundtrack music. Although there was no particular film project involved here, Harrison imagined the music he might write for such a treatment of the Mexican images.

The ensemble for Song of Quetzalcoatl is a nicely balanced ensemble of drums, Mexican instruments, and metallophones, including some of his "junk" and Chinese instruments. The instrumentation is bells, wood blocks, dragon's mouths, sistrum, cowbells, suspended or muted brake-drums, wooden rattle, snare drum, guiro (a Mexican rasp), wind-glass, triangle, gongs, tam-tam, tom-toms, and a very low bass drum.

It is between six and seven minutes long and begins with a memorable percussion pattern that is the unifying thread of the whole piece. It has the quality of a procession or ritual, particularly in the first portions of the composition. The ending, which is hushed, has an awestruck, magical quality. - Joseph Stevenson[1]


Awards

Commercial Discography

Recent Performances

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Emporia State University Percussion Ensemble - November 29, 2017 - Albert Taylor Concert Hall - "Doomsday" Concert


Works for Percussion by this Composer

A Tribute to Charon (Passage throught Darkness/Counterdance in Spring) - Percussion Trio
Ariadne - Solo Percussion and Flute acc.
Beverly's Troubadour Piece - Percussion and Harp
Bomba (Harrison) - Percussion Quintet
Canticle No. 1 - Percussion Quintet
Canticle No. 3 - Percussion Quartet; Ocarina; Guitar (6 Players)
Concerto for Organ with Percussion Orchestra - Percussion Octet; Organ, Piano
Concerto for Violin and Percussion Orchestra - Percussion Quintet, Violin
Double Fanfare - Percussion Ensemble 12 - Harrison/Cirone
Double Music - Percussion Quartet - Cage/Harrison
Fifth Simfony - Percussion Quartet
First Concerto - Percussion Duo and Flute
Fugue - Percussion Quartet
In Praise of Johnny Appleseed (for Dance and Percussion) - Percussion Trio; Flute; Dancer
Labyrinth No. 3 - Percussion Ensemble (11)
Orpheus - for the Singer to the Dance - Percussion Ensemble (15); Solo Voice; Chorus
Serenade - Percussion; Guitar
Simfony No. 13 - Percussion Quartet
Suite - Percussion Quintet
Suite No. 1 - Percussion; Guitar
The Drums of Orpheus - from the ballet "Orpheus"
The Song of Queztecoatl - Percussion Quartet

Additional Resources



References

  1. http://www.allmusic.com/composition/song-of-quetzalcoatl-for-4-percussionists-mc0002411601