Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Jeffrey Rathbun, 3 Diversions for 2 Oboes: Program Notes

3 Diversions for 2 Oboes – Jeffrey Rathbun (1987)

The second piece on my recital composed by an oboist, 3 Diversions for 2 Oboes was written by Jeffrey Rathbun, Assistant Principal Oboe of the Cleveland Orchestra. An active composer as well as performer, Rathbun has written orchestral and chamber pieces, many featuring the oboe, and teaches at schools including the Cleveland Institute of Music and Baldwin Wallace Conservatory. 3 Diversions for 2 Oboes was written at the request of fellow Cleveland Orchestra oboist John Mack and premiered in July, 1987 by the composer and Mack.

Diversions is a set of three miniature movements, neo-Classical in feel, arranged in the traditional order of a sonata (fast-slow-fast). Here Rathbun isn’t writing an elegy or telling a love story; the piece is called an “interesting, listenable, and challenging oboe duet,”[1] and it’s an apt description. Pasculli wrote in order to remedy a lack of virtuosic oboe pieces, and Rathbun, a similar lack of clever, playful, accessible new music for the oboe. The two oboe parts share melodic and accompanimental material fairly equally, the lines dove-tailing, overlapping, and swerving around each other, and both explore the high and low reaches of the oboe as well as multiphonic effects. As a whole, the piece plays with the range of effects available to the oboe, and also explores the unity of sound which the two instruments can achieve.

Characteristics of the first movement, marked Allegretto, include wide leaps, syncopation, grace notes, and snappy 16th-note interjections. Neither conventionally tonal nor decidedly atonal, the movement and piece as a whole move not through chord progressions but instead through a series of pitch centers.

The second movement, Lento, pairs a slow melody, lyrical despite plentiful leaps and a series of tremolos, and the two parts are extremely unified here As the movement progresses, after a brief increase in energy it becomes ever more restrained. The range of the melodic theme is lowered and condensed, and the movement ends on a multiphonic approximation of a major triad.

The third movement, marked Vigoroso, is the most energetic of the three. With a syncopated and jazzy (theme 1), perpetual motion (theme 2) feel punctuated by rapid arpeggios (theme 3), and multiphonics, the movement looks back to the second movement of Poulenc’s Sonata. The themes, rather than being developed, are fragmented and reduced; for example, the first and third themes combine into a three-against-four pattern of scale fragments, and the second becomes almost purely rhythmic. Despite the multitude of motives, there is a steady and dramatic drive to the piece’s finish, where aspects of all three movements combine and whirl into the piece’s final note, a unison middle C.

[1] Jeanne Belfy, review of Color Factory, www.idrs.org

For expanded analysis or citation info, please contact me by leaving a comment on this post, or emailing of [dot] polyhymnia [at] gmail [dot] com. Please credit Rachel Becker if using quotes/specific information from these notes.

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