Suite in E-flat (Fine, Vivian)
|Work Title||Suite in E-flat|
|Year/Date of Composition||1940|
|First Performance||1944-03-03, Congers, New York, International Society for Contemporary Composers, Vivian Fine, piano|
|Average Duration||8 minutes|
Fine’s selection of the suite as a vehicle for her solo piano writing in this period reflects Roger Session’s influence and that of the neoclassical movement. Though modeled on the traditional Baroque keyboard suite, it incorporates Fine’s individual harmonic language, melodic experimentation, and intervallic preferences.
Though Fine retains many characteristics of the traditional Baroque suite, one immediately notices the absence of two standard movements, the allemande and courante. Instead, Fine includes such optional movements as the prelude, gavotte, and air. She clearly establishes the key of E-flat major at the outset, and operates within an E-flat framework throughout, using dissonance for color and expressive purposes. The melodic style of this work reflects Sessions’ contributions to Fine’s development, as her melodic lines become longer and more lyric. Rhythm plays a subservient role to the more important harmonic and melodic elements; thus the complex rhythmic structures and irregular meter of her earlier period are missing. The Suite seems much more homophonic than her previous solo piano works (except Music for Study), yet we will discover that the music’s dissonant component results from Fine’s continued linear approach to composition.
The melodic elements of this prelude are more crucial to its construction than in Fine’s previous solo piano works. Sessions influenced her greatly in this respect, as we see longer, more lyric, and more clearly delineated melodic lines. The opening theme exhibits this new melodic treatment with its conjunct melodic movement. Fine continues to approach composition in a linear manner, and her melodies, despite the underlying dissonances in the vertical structures, retain their conjunct movement or use intervals that have chordal implications.
Sarabande, the second movement of Fine’s Suite, embraces the standard characteristics of Baroque sarabande: triple meter, slowly stately character, emphasis placed on the second beat of a measure, and cadences on weak beats. The lento tempo indication and expression marking, espressivo e legato, represents the dignified and elegant nature of Fine’s sarabande.
The gavotte, the longest movement (46 mm.) of the Suite, emulates the Baroque model with its light, humorous character and distinctive rhythmic features. The piece, in simple duple meter, begins with two quarter-note upbeats and contains short phrases. Rhythmically, there is nothing unusual about this gavotte, but Fine uses this traditional rhythmic scheme to create a charming yet harmonically adventurous movement. 888 This seemingly innocent, beautiful air is a highly complex study and demonstrates how Fine draws upon elements from the other Suite movements to shape a new mode of expression; melody with simple accompaniment. From the gavotte, Fine learns how to coordinate a homophonic texture and counterpoint. From the sarabande, she extracts the warm, lyric melodic line. From the prelude, she experiments with recurrent thematic sections. The common thread to the entire Suite, though, continues to be the relationship of E-flat and D-flat.
Although the air incorporates many of the elements used in the Suite’s movements, Fine’s gigue engenders a more satisfying conclusion and resolution to the complete work with its bright, quick tempo and clear sense of tonality.
The Suite exemplifies Fine’s changing compositional style, resulting from her study with Roger Sessions and from the shifting musical climate. From Sessions she learned a more refined craftsmanship, exhibited in longer, lyric melodies, a tonal fabric integrated with nonharmonic tones, and a formal and melodic sense of symmetry. Although Fine experiments with homophonic textures throughout the Suite, a linear approach continues to dominate her writing style (as was also the case with Sessions). Her reference to “harmonies falling where they fall” reiterates this linear compositional approach, and often tonal or harmonic ambiguity results.
In each of the Suite’s movements one sees important structural, harmonic, and melodic points delineated by means of this relationship. In addition to the harmonic characteristics described above, Fine features short, simple rhythmic motives, varying articulations, two or three-layer textures, and traditional formal schemes (such as ABA) in the Suite. She fully exploits the various Baroque suite characteristics, yet with a compositional language that is distinctly Vivian Fine.
- —Leslie Jones, “The Solo Piano Music of Vivian Fine,” Doctor of musical arts thesis, University of Cincinnati, 1994
James Friskin and Irwin Freundlich describe Fine’s Suite in E-flat Major: “Warm, lyric Prelude; stately Sarabande with florid melody; dainty Gavotte; quiet Air; short, crisp Gigue to close.” Composed during Fine’s second period (1937-44), and paralleling the wane of the American experimental movement and the rise of neoclassicism, the Suite reflects Fine’s dramatic shift in tonality from her earlier atonal composition. It is modeled on a traditional baroque keyboard suite and is composed of five dance movements: a majestic Prelude; a stately Sarabande with ornamented melody; a charming Gavotte; a serene Air; and an animated Gigue to conclude. The Suite, premiered in 1946 by Vivian Fine, incorporated Fine’s individualized harmonic language while underscoring her affinity for counterpoint and love of lyric melodies. It is only one of many jewels that may be discovered within Fine’s varied and challenging solo piano repertoire.
- —Leslie Jones, Ph.D., performance program notes