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Oulipian Episodes for Wind Ensemble

Carl Schimmel program notes (non-fictional) Oulipian Episodes was inspired by the novel La Vie mode d’emploi (“Life: A User’s Manual”) by Georges Perec, a French author and member of the literary movement known as “Oulipo” (short for “Ouvroir de littérature potentielle;” roughly translated as “workshop of potential literature”). The members of Oulipo used constraints in their writing, to inspire creativity and to spur the creation of new literary forms. For example, another novel by Perec, La disparation, was written entirely without the letter “e”. In La Vie mode d’emploi, Perec constructed an elaborate system of constraints which required that each of the 99 chapters contain certain emotions, country names, literary and artistic works, etc. Following this same approach, I gave myself the task of composing a set of movements with titles drawn from the fictional musical titles contained in La Vie mode d’emploi. For each movement I gave myself a constraint. The concept is that these movements are actually pre-existing works, each composed by a different composer, and that I am merely assembling them as a suite. The constraints are as follows: I. II. III.



Crossed Words, by Svend Grundtvig – The first 15 measures of the score, when positioned properly onto 15 staves, resembles a crossword. “Intermezzo” from Orlando, by Julio Arconati – The movement is an exercise in progressive augmentation and then truncation. Malakhitès, by Morris Schmetterling – an “eodermdrome of eodermdromes” – an eodermdrome is a special 11-letter word or phrase which can be constructed out of only five letters of the alphabet by placing the five letters on a five-pointed star and tracing a complete path through the letters. English-language examples include “SHOES ON HENS” and “DRAB RED BEADS”. This movement has the form ABCDEADBECA, where each letter corresponds to an eodermdrome of harmonies, motives, timbres, etc. Furthermore, Perec writes that the work is supposedly scored for “15 brasses, voice, and percussion” and was premiered by the “New Brass Ensemble at Michigan State University”. “Laborynthus” from Suite Sérielle 94, by Octave Coppel – a 12-tone movement, which also includes quotations from operas mentioned in La Vie mode d’emploi. You might enjoy trying to identify the quotations – the operas are: • La Bohème, by Giacomo Puccini • Don Giovanni, by W. A. Mozart • Lohengrin, by Richard Wagner • La Traviata, by Giuseppe Verdi • Le Coq d’Or, by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov • The Ring Cycle, by Richard Wagner • Die Entführung aus dem Serail, by W. A. Mozart • Dido and Aeneas, by Henry Purcell • Boris Godunov, by Modest Mussorgsky • L’Enfant et les Sortilèges, by Maurice Ravel • The Rake’s Progress, by Igor Stravinsky • Wozzeck, by Alban Berg “Entr’acte” from This Golden Sickle in the Field of Stars, by Philoxanthe Schapska – A musical interpretation of what Oulipians would call “transduction”: the movement is in ABA’ form, where the A’ section combines the melody from A with the harmonies of B. Incertum, op. 74, by Pierre Block – A “work” that is derived from Mots-Croisés in that the rhythms are all exactly the same, but the instrumentation and pitches vary. The instrumentation as referenced in La Vie mode d’emploi is supposed to be “voice and percussion”. La Toupie, by Emmanuel de Dinteville – (“The Spinning Top”) – a musical pastiche or “cento”. The main material at the opening of the movement is taken entirely from Frédéric Chopin’s “Minute” Waltz in D-flat Major, op. 64 #1. The movement then becomes more fragmented and frenzied as the Waltz theme becomes buried in other Chopin quotations – the entire movement is constructed completely from fragments of Chopin’s works; there is no original material in this movement. I believe that 38 works were referenced. No transpositions were used, except for octave transpositions and doublings.

I wrote the last movement first, and derived the other six movements – including the 12-tone row in movement IV – from material in the seventh movement (particularly the motives from the “Minute” Waltz). Movements 1 through 6 create an arch form, where Movement 1 is paired with Movement 6, Movement 2 is paired with Movement 5 (slow movements), and Movements 3 and 4 function as a pair of fast movements, without interruption. The last movement will probably come as a complete surprise to most listeners, but hopefully the swirling motive of the opening and the “half-quarter” falling gesture later in the movement in particular will bring to mind the earlier movements, at least subconsciously. This work was commissioned by the Illinois State University Wind Symphony, Cornell University Winds, and the CIM/Case University Circle Wind Ensemble, and was funded in part by the Composer Assistance Program of New Music USA.

performance notes • • • •

The heavy double bars in movements I, III, and VI indicate a grand pause of several seconds. If celesta is not available, glockenspiel may be used instead in movement V. The siren used in movement VI needs to be able to stop suddenly – an effective alternative would be a vocal technique that imitates a siren sound. Box notation (e.g., in the Clarinet part, m. 3) requires improvisation of a fast-moving passage constructed from the given notes, to the end of the arrow.

Profile for Carl Schimmel, composer

Oulipian Episodes, by Carl Schimmel (for wind ensemble)  

(visit to order score and parts) "Oulipian Episodes" was inspired by the novel "La Vie mode d’emploi" by George...

Oulipian Episodes, by Carl Schimmel (for wind ensemble)  

(visit to order score and parts) "Oulipian Episodes" was inspired by the novel "La Vie mode d’emploi" by George...