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Old 12-11-2009, 07:20 AM
mgj32 mgj32 is offline
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Join Date: Jan 1970
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Default Re: The Search for Nelly Gray, VIII Scherzo

Hi Mark,

You are pretty much dead on . . . well, except that I began to decide way back during work on section II, "Patriots," that "symphony" wouldn't quite fit once it was done, as it is about 2/3 now. I am calling it an oratorio. It technically fits, but I can't recall having heard anything with quite the same structure. The central story, which is totally absent from some sections, is built on the mostly historical Benjamin Hanby song, "My Darling Nelly Gray." I have called Joseph Selby, the run-away slave, Ned, but it is otherwise historical. I am taking certain liberties, as having him join the Ohio Colored Regiment, his description of the battle, and that the Ohio was on its way to Richmond is something I haven't verified. But Hanby took certain liberties, too, ending his song with Ned (Joseph) find Nelly in heaven. I am still not entirely certain just how my version of this story will end. I do know that in the "Love in Time of War" section he believe he has traveled back in time to the Kentucky shore, and will settle into life as a handy man after the war.

But the love story is, in a sense secondary, though as well as being a love story, it provides a justification for the war. . . IF you are on the Union side. But if you are on the Southern side, justification and attitudes are quite different. Note the accusation against the North, in "God Save the South," that they intend to "fetter the free man/to ransom the slave."

Thus, the background is intended to be the attitudes of the war and the method is to let each side speak for itself through it's music, which I try to keep balanced, with each section treating one theme common to both sides. Pretty simple, but it, indeed, results in a massive cast of characters. Hopefully, when Ned imagines Nelly is walking beside him as his unit, having buried its dead, marches up the mountain pass, one would imagine his weary comrades marching beside him, especially when his vision of Nelly admonishes him not to speak with his mouth--and incidentally indicates that Ned still knows what's going on around him. Fortunately, it will require only one orchestra, one chorus, but several soloists.

The reason for the poly-harmonic sections, which are many, is just as you suggest. I like your term "sanitizing." It is clear, if you read the words of enough of the music, that it can't be sanitized. I may have gone too far when I put the North and South in different keys as they sing, at the same time, "The Old Union/Southern Wagon," but I felt it was called for because it comes early enough to set the tone, I hope.

My fear of it flopping is mostly that there is so much to take in, and most people in our time aren't familiar with much of the incredible music the war produced, and a lot of the irony, often expressed in a single phrase, played or sung, will have no impact, as when Ned complains about what has happened to him and we hear the Southern Girl sing "we love the South you know." Or bits of "God Save the South" as Sherman scorches the earth of Georgia. But I've gone on with it so long, that it would be a shame to leave it hanging, so I doing the final research before starting "The Battle of the Bands." A frequent historical occurrence when the two sides were camped near enough to each other.

I regret that so much is not original. I haven't paid any attention to the way the original songs were harmonized, and perhaps the structure is something new, and I do some improvisation, and a few of the melodies and words of the dialogs are mine. But almost all of the melody, and of course the words, come from composer of the era. Even the brief requiem which will end it is a variation from the spiritual it starts out with.

Once I shake off laziness long enough to re-title and refile, the title will become "The Search for Nelly Gray." I think the third symphony will be strictly classical in form and it may not contain so much as a chord with a minor seventh, with no such thing as jumping from C Major to Ab Major (though I love the sound produced).

Thanks for the comments and all best,
mgj
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