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Comedy Overture

By John Ireland

Comedy Overture
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Comedy Overture composed by John Ireland (1879-1962). For concert band (Piccolo, 1st Flute, 2nd Flute, 1st Oboe, 2nd Oboe*, 1st Bb Clarinet, 2nd Bb Clarinet, 3rd Bb Clarinet, Eb Alto Clarinet*, Bb Bass Clarinet, 1st Bassoon, 2nd Bassoon*, 1st Eb Alto Saxophone, 2nd Eb Alto Saxophone, Bb Tenor Saxophone, Eb Baritone Saxophone*). Band Music. Grade 5. Score and parts. Duration 10:30. Published by C. Alan Publications (CN.R10004).

A slow introduction gives way to the "chirpy" theme which is developed, inverted, and accents displaced across the bar line to give a 3/2 feel against the written meter. Restlessness leads to a tranquillo presented by the flute and clarinet, weaving a flowing counterpoint around the melody until the original slow introduction returns. A triumphant recapitulation of the main theme brings this wonderful piece to an end.

Originally composed for Brass Band in 1934 "Comedy Overture" is, despite its name, a serious piece of writing. The term Overture does not imply that there is anything else to follow; it is used in the 19th century sense of Concert Overture (like Mendelssohn's "Fingal's Cave" - in other words, a miniature Tone Poem). The 1930's was a period of Ireland's mature writing - yielding the Piano Concerto (1930), the Legend for piano and orchestra (1933), and the choral work "These Things Shall Be" (1936-1937). We are fortunate therefore to have both "Comedy Overture" and "A Downland Suite" (1932) written for band medium at this time. As with "Maritime Overture" (written in 1944 for military band) Ireland approaches his material symphonically. The opening three notes state immediately the two seminal intervals of a semitone and a third. These are brooding and dark in Bb minor. It is these intervals which make up much of the thematic content of "Comedy," sometimes appearing in inverted form, and sometimes in major forms as well. The concept that some musical intervals are consonant , some dissonant, and some perfect is perhaps useful in understanding the nature of the tension and resolution of this work. The third is inherently unstable, and by bar 4, the interval is expanded to a fourth - with an ascending sem-quaver triplet - and then expanded to a fifth. The instability of the third pushes it towards a "perfect" resolution in the fourth or the fifth. The slow introduction is built entirely around these intervals in Bb minor and leads through an oboe cadenza, to an Allegro moderato brillante in Bb major. Once again, the semi-tone (inverted) and a third (major) comprise the main, chirpy, theme-inspired by a London bus-conductor's cry of "Piccadilly." (Much of the material in "Comedy" was re-conceived by Ireland for orchestra and published two years later under the title "A London Overture.") The expansion of the interval of a third through a fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh now takes place quickly before our very ears at the outset of this quicker section. Immediately the theme is developed, inverted, and accents displaced across the bar line to give a 3/2 feel against the written meter. But this restlessness leads to a tranquillo built around an arpeggio figure and presented by flute and clarinet. Ireland weaves his flowing counterpoint around this melody until the original slow introduction returns leading to a stretto effect as the rising bass motifs become more urgent, requesting a resolution of the tension of that original semitone and minor third. Yet resolution is withheld at this point as the music becomes almost becalmed in a further, unrelated tranquillo section marked pianissimo. It is almost as if another side of Ireland's nature is briefly allowed to shine through the stern counterpoint and disciplined structure. This leads to virtually a full recapitulation of the chirpy "brilliante," with small additional touches of counterpoint, followed by the first tranquillo section-this time in the tonic of Bb major. But the instability of the third re-asserts itself, this time demanding a resolution. And a triumphant resolution it receives, for it finally becomes fully fledged and reiterates the octave in a closing vivace. The opening tension has at last resolved itself into the most perfect interval of all.

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