Three Fugues and a Dirge for Richard III  (2009)

I.  Fugue a4:  "Now is the winter of our discontent"

II.  Permutation Fugue a5:  "Within the guilty closure of thy walls"

III.  Prelude: Distant Fanfares; Double Fugue:  "A horse!  A horse! My kingdom for a horse!"; Dirge for Richard III

duration ca. 20:00 (4 + 8 + 8)

available from the composer

Instrumentation

woodwind quintet

flute, oboe, Bb clarinet, F horn, bassoon

 

Program Note

Three Fugues and a Dirge for Richard III began as a mere amusement.  While waiting for my Baroque counterpoint students to correct their work, I had the curious idea to attempt a fugal subject in the style of J. S. Bach that would both require a tonal answer and work in stretto--but in 7/8 meter.  The challenge was surprisingly simple.  I quite liked the subject and wanted to continue it, but needed a context.  My son suggested that I call it “Fugue for Richard III” because of the limping rhythm; and suddenly the shape of the entire piece came to me.

 

Known to the world through William Shakespeare’s play, Richard III is reviled as one of history’s great villains; a man who deliberately kills relatives and friends for mere amusement, whose vile and bloodthirsty reign caused his people to rise against him, and who was so deliberately evil that even his physique was twisted by his amorality.  But as another English leader, Winston Churchill, noted, “History is written by the victors.”  Shakespeare’s portrait, however dramatic, has been proven false; it should be remembered that Shakespeare’s monarch was a Tudor, and it was the first Tudor king who vanquished Richard III.  More recent research indicates that Richard was likely innocent of most of the murders claimed to him, and those that he is known to have had killed were guilty of treason.  He was no coward, and his final defeat was certainly caused by his betrayal at the hands of two of his closest allies.

 

Three Fugues and a Dirge for Richard III celebrates this dichotomy between the historical and fictional Richards.  Each of the three fugues is titled with a quotation from Shakespeare’s play, and over the course of the three movements the music becomes increasingly dissonant and twisted in its melodic shape, mirroring the descent of the fictional Richard’s soul.  But following the final climax the music becomes a lament for the man himself.  Perhaps the real tragedy of Richard III is that a man who, it seems, tried to be a good and decent king has been cast as one of the most amoral men of all time.

Christopher Coleman

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