Petruchio (1995)

tone poem for symphony orchestra, 15 minutes


Orchestra: 2222/4331/hp/pno/3 perc/strings


Premiered by the Indiana University Concert Orchestra, Daniel Alcott, conductor in 1998



Excerpt from Part Two


Performers: Indiana University Concert Orchestra, Daniel Alcott, cond


Program Notes:

Petruchio is a fourteen-minute tone poem for orchestra inspired by characters in Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew.  Petruchio, the play's irreverent hero, forces his way into courtship of and marriage with Kate, the formidable daughter of a Paduan nobleman; the might clash of wills which follows gives rise to misunderstandings, rough comedy, and a few broken dishes.


Petruchio is a study in variation technique: in this case, variations on a rhythmic motive.  The motive - four eighth-notes (B-flat, A, A-flat, E-flat), the second of which is accented, derives from the pronunciation of the name "Petruchio."  This motive is transformed throughout the piece: lengthened, shortened, reversed, its single accented note is given prominence through a variety of metrical, registral, and coloristic means.  Almost every rhythmic or thematic gesture in the piece has its genesis in this motive.


The work is in four parts.  The introductory first part, marked "Powerful, Strident," opens explosively with full orchestra playing the "Petruchio" motive in its original form, followed directly by two variants.  The music builds to a quick climax, after which the full orchestra dissolves in scurrying string and woodwind figures, and the large second section (depicting Petruchio himself) begins. 


The inspiration for this second part comes from Shakespeare's description of the character's arrival at his wedding, entirely shabbily attired.  The section begins quietly with a theme in the cellos, taken up by the woodwinds a few moments later.  Two secondary themes appear in the course of this section, the first in violins, the second in the basses. The "Petruchio" motive is passed through each section of the orchestra; the principal cello theme is combined with the secondary themes, and the "Petruchio" motive is subjected to every more variations.  A final tutti unison passage leads directly into a mysterious transitional section. 


Beneath soft violin tremolos, various solo instruments - horn, oboe, bass clarinet, bassoon - emerge and disappear, until the harp's cadenza introduces the third section, subtitled "Night Music." 


"Night Music" is based on another passage in Shrew, in which Petruchio describes a part of his strategy to "tame" his new wife.  Essentially, he engages in a sleep-deprivation program under cover of excess solicitude for Kate's comfort.  "Night Music," then, represents a nocturne interrupted by Petruchio, whose outbursts can be heard clearly.   A new theme, that for Kate, appears first in solo oboe and is taken by other solo instruments; the accompanying string rhythms outline the letters "K A T E" in Morse Code.  At the close of "Night Music," both the Petruchio and Kate themes combine in a long, cantabile duet, in which both themes are augmented and rhythmically stretched.  This represents - counter to the play - a kind a rapprochement on more equal terms. 


The final section recalls previous thematical material, building to a powerful ending which ends - seemingly - on Petruchio's terms. 


--Andrew Earle Simpson


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