• details

    • Order numbers: AM 110 -020
    • Instrumentation: Fanfare
    • Duration: 16'
    • Grade: 6
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Extreme Make-over (Fanfare)

Metamorphoses on a Theme by Tchaikovsky
Johan de Meij

Extreme Make-over consists of a number of musical metamorphoses on a theme from Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s well-known Andante cantabile (the second movement of his String Quartet No. 1 in D, Op. 11, written in 1871). “Never in my life have I felt so flattered, never have I been so proud of my creative powers as when Lev Tolstoy sat in the chair next to mine listening to my Andante, and the tears ran down his cheeks,” wrote the composer in the winter of 1876 on the occasion of a special concert organized for Tolstoy at the Moscow Conservatory. In 1888 Tchaikovsky arranged this movement for cello and orchestra.

The main theme of the Andante cantabile is based on a Russian folksong. In Extreme Make-over this theme is introduced in its original form by a saxophone quartet. At the theme’s reprise, the soprano sax joins the quartet, while flugelhorns and vibraphone sneak, almost inaudibly, alongside the soloists and elongate each note of the melody, as though the sustaining pedal on a piano has been depressed.

The first metamorphosis emanates from a single tone, to which the two successive tones from the theme are added in bell-like chords. The addition of the lower second results in a completely new sound world, completing the first metamorphosis. Anticipating the canonic theme fromthe finale, a timpani solo forms the transition to the alla Marcia. This movement is composed in a robust neo-classical style and is peppered with quotes, including fragments from Tchaikovsky’s Fourth and Sixth Symphonies and the Fantasy-Overture Romeo and Juliet.

The following movement features a rather unconventional instrumental group: ten tuned bottles, played by members of the flugelhorn and trumpet section. This group eventually provides the accompaniment for an extensive marimba solo, gradually producing a sort of gamelan effect. In composing for the tuned bottles I have applied the ‘hoketus’ technique: each player produces a single note of the melody or the chord.

This fragile movement is joined seamlessly to the finale, a canonic treatment of the theme. Hurtling through each instrumental group, it leads us to a festive conclusion.

Johan de Meij
Amsterdam, June 2006

Performance suggestions

* The opening movement can be performed without conductor, emphasizing the chamber music aspect of the piece and allowing the four soloists to exhibit their ensemble skills. The conductor can then take over at either measure 33 or measure 51 (Poco più animato).

* The preparation and playing of the tuned bottles requires some explanation. Fill the bottles almost to the brim with water and then tune them accurately to the following concert pitches: D, E, G#, A and B over two octaves (in the score these notes are transposed for the B-flat and E-flat instruments). Adding or removing even a few drops can make a considerable difference in the pitch. The precise shape or size of bottle does not matter much, provided the neck of the bottle is not too wide to comfortably produce a sound. Use a cork or a screw top to prevent evaporation (which would affect the pitch) and take a spare prepared bottle on stage in case of accidental spillage. You never know!

* The method of producing a sound on the bottles is comparable to a flute or pan flute embouchure. A certain amount of practice is required to be able to produce a full, pleasant sound. Over-blowing will result in unwanted overtones. Once the player has established the optimum angle of his embouchure, his sound will resemble a somewhat breathy flute tone. A large dynamic range is possible. For the flutists, this will not be a great problem. The clarinet group may possibly seek some advice from them. To get used to the ‘hoketus’ structure, at a rehearsal the ‘bottle notes’ can be played on the usual instruments first.

* This will all take some getting used to and is usually accompanied by general mirth and the customary raucous jokes. But once the players have mastered the technique and the balance, the result is extraordinary: an entirely new sound emerges from the ensemble. The composer hereby also affords the players a legitimate excuse to empty as many bottles as they see fit, before or after rehearsals. Cheers!

Johan de Meij

NB. An extra synthesizer part is added to piano part in the set, to be used only as a substitute for the bottle section, or as a rehearsal aid. JdM