The term “Passacaglia” in the title is not meant to be taken literally. This piece is more of a play on the passacaglia form. A traditional perspective would say that a passacaglia is a dance in 3/4 time with an unvarying bass line and constantly changing counterpoint in the upper voices. None of this really applies to this piece as a whole. The main theme is stated in the first three bars in the ‘Cellos. This theme is the bass line that is supposed to be constant and repeated throughout the piece. But by only bar four it is changed. The piece is a constantly changing kaleidoscope based on this three bar motive. Even the theme at bar 22 is connected even though it sounds completely different from the original. The scherzo section, being light in nature, gives even more insight to the nature of the motive. In the following wind soli, not only are the pitches altered, but the rhythm too. There are variations on the varied material and some variation on the varied material that was varied in the first place. However, somehow, the theme breaks through the other counterpoint around it: always there, but not always in plain sight; the theme is constant, just not in the bass line. This piece is not a traditional passacaglia but a modern interpretation of an established form using old and new techniques.
Special care should be taken in the many divisi in the string parts. Since the numbers may be varied, the divisi assignments should be clearly laid out. Most often the divisi is by stand. Other times, there are solo parts with the other instruments accompanying the soloist. To maintain a full but chamber-like setting in full strings divisi sections (e.g.: bars 150-165), balance must be paid close attention to. If one section is louder than another, it will most likely cover up an important part as every string part, and player for that matter, is important. Much of the more important lines for the strings are orchestrated in such a way that they will have more players on those lines than others, or a wind will double, or, in cases of solo instruments, they will be marked to play louder. It is imperative that the four ‘cello and one bass soli at bar 146 be in tune and correctly balanced. At bars 137-144, all of the flute players are required to flutter tongue. If this effect is not possible, then the players should just play the notes as written without the flutter. Both Piccolo players are required to play harmonics. Again, if this effect is not possible, the players may play the notes as is. Both brass players will need straight mutes.
Chamber Orchestra: 4 Flutes, 2 Clarinets, Trumpet, Trombone, Strings: 6 Violin I, 4-3 Violin II, 3 Violas, 5-4 Violoncellos, 2 Double Basses
Bloomingdale School of Music Chamber Orchestra, Conducted by Lawrence Davis at Christ and St. Stephens Church, New York, NY, on June 8, 2007.