The Alice stories began not as the books we know today, but as a series of improvised tales told by Reverend Charles L. Dodgson, who used the pen name of Lewis Carroll, for the amusement of three charming little girls (Lorina Charlotte, Edith, and Alice Pleasance Liddell) as they rowed up the Thames together most Sunday afternoons in summer. Only at Alice's insistence did Lewis Carroll finally consent to write these stories down. The rest, as they say, is hostory and her story.
The orchestral interludes are, for me, stories told during those happy summer days that did not get written down; Happy Voices is one of the more elaborate. It is, one might say, a Tale that got away. The listener, of course, is free to imagine whatever story he will during the musical proceedings. The compsoer, however, reserves the right to keep his own scenario to himself, happily to wag, as it were, his own Tale.
Happy Voices is a Fuga, that Scylla of musical forms not always cherished for its joyful exuberance. The subject of this fugue is in two halves. the first — for strings — is motionless, poised; the second — for woodwinds — a slither of chromatic movement.:
Thoughthe interval of the tritone permeates this theme, relating it to a motif from Quaint Events (the first section of Part II), the harmonic movement is so different that it is heard as an entirely new theme. Unlike the traditional fugue, in which the opening subject is almost without exception a single voice, my subject (like the fugue subject in Final Alice) consists of two voices moving in constant rhythmic unison.
With the second statement of this subject a counter-subject is heard:
Inconsequential as its repeated ocaves may seem, its emphasis of triple meter in contrast to the dual meter of the main subject is crucial to the rhythmical vitality of the piece.
Though the tempo o f Happy Voices is consistently fast and lively, the "Jekyll and Hyde" character sugested by the theme's dissimilar halves creates a staggered momentum of sudden stops and sudden forward lurchings. A nervous, unstable, almost keyless harmony characterizes the music. This effect, created in part by a persistent use of sequential modulation through the circle of fifths, causes one key's tonic too quickly to become the next key's dominant, through a dizzying number of changes. As a result, the ear "mistrusts" what it momentarily hears as stable, seeking reassurance, rather, in harmony of key that does not move so quickly. Despite this frenetic, quirky motion, another quite "jazzy" theme, clearly derived from the fugue subject, makes a strong appearance:
It is not until the Quaint Events motif enexpectedly reappears as lyrical relief from this obsessive, chattering movement that the ear is appeased, reoriented — like meeting an old friend on a crowded, unfamiliar street:
The "old friend", however, is not quite as he once was: The original balanced antecedent/consequent phrase relation of the first four measures of the Quaint Events motif is now distorted. In its first Happy Voices appearance, the cantabile and gracefully flowing antecedent is answered by a rude double-time consequent. In its second appearance, the process is reversed. Al the while fugal particles whirl through the texture, bombarding this new-old theme while interrupting its successive appearances. Only in its thirs presentation does the Quaint Events motif seem to right itself, restored to teh balanced proportion and length that it had originally enjoyed.
This achieved, all the placable activity hesitates, then gradually disintegrates. The opening fugal subject is presented in shorter and shorter segments, the woodwinds falter, the strings drop away, leaving only a solo violin haltingly playing the repeated notes of the opening motifs. This is, however, only the calm before the storm: forces again quickly gather and, borne by the largest crescendo of the piece thus far, we arrive at the quodlibet, presented thunderously by the whole orchestra.
Quodlibet, as defined by a musical dictionary, is "an unlikely, even surprising, combination of diverse themes." In this case, not only are two of the Happy Voices themes combined, one atop the other, but the "surprise" comes with the realization tha they fit, as well, above a grandly expansive theme from Quaint Events:
A new lyrical theme appears, almust casually, as the music briefly calms:
New, that is, only to alistener unfamiliar with Part I: this simple, sequential theme is, in fact, the "Alice" melody that generates so much of Part I.
A faster version of the quodlibet section returns and it, in turn, grows still faster. The harmony, riding its infernal circle of fifths, continues to climb upward. As teh excitement mounts, the briefly glimpsed melody from Part I takes on a more and more insistent, even ecstatic prominence. This theme, too, is combined into the quodlibet matrix. (Quodlibetissimo!) However, at this point in the Fuga, when one theme has struggled to the fore, the other motifs, like a gang of howling furies, are not far behind, below, or above, seeking to wrest it from its sovereign place. Every possible contrapuntal device is now given full, exuberant play and, at length, with trumpets proclaiming victoriously the "Alice" melody from Part I, the climax of the movement arrives.
From this point on the energy gradually subsides; the intense rhythmic pulse relaxes. The harmonic movement, still slitheringly chromatic, slows. After a portentous roll on the timpani the music comes finally to rest on a long-held A-flat minor chord. harps embroider a fragile texture, mysterious winds rise, while horns solemnly proclaim a tritone melody:
In a complete performance of Child Alice, Part II, the final portion of All in the Golden Afternoon begins at this point. For separate concert performances of Happy Voices, I have composed what I call a Concert-Finale: something more substantial than a concert-ending but less self-contained than a final movement.
The last dying notes of the harn melody are picked up now by the violins, which give it new vigor. Ceaselessly, above and below this theme, woodwinds and brass chatter the opening fuga motif. This perpetuum mobile grows and grows. After a grand climax, the music softens, though the momentum never slows down. Suddenly, breathlessly, it all vanishes.
[The suggestion to write a more elaborate ending for Happy Voices came from Michael Tilson Thomas and immediately struck fire in my own imagination. If Concert-Finales can have dedicatees, then, of course, it is to Michael that I also dedicate this one.]