Program Note for Les Rêves de Colombine, Op. 65
Amy Beach (née Marcy Cheney) is inarguably one of—if not the most—prominently recognized and performed American women composers. Beach premiered the original piano suite Les Rêves de Columbine on the program of one of her semi-annual recitals at the Hotel Tuileries in Boston on April 17, 1907. The five movements paint the picture of the dreams or reveries of a well-known commedia dell’arte stock theatrical character, Columbina.
Columbina, which means “little dove” in French, was a female role of a comic servant, married to Pierrot (another character popularly depicted in programmatic romantic music) and the mistress of Harlequin. Historically, the role was limited to that of a dancer in the entr’acte, but developed over time into more of a story-driving character who may have been seen on stage carrying a tambourine—likely wielded to deflect an overly insistent romantic pursuer.
The five reveries, are
- La fée de la fontaine: “The Fairy in the fountain”—Beach’s notes describe the fairy as “capricious, fierce, and sullen as well as gracious.”
- Le prince gracieux: “The Gracious Prince,” a playfully regal, and somewhat formal dance movement. (listen for Columbine’s tambourine!)
- Valse amoreuse: “Waltz of love”—a lilting dance with Pierrot, or perhaps dreaming of another?
- Sous les étoiles: “Under the stars,” perhaps the most “dream-like” of all the movements, undulating and serene but with an intense rise and return.
- Danse d’arlequin: “Harlequin’s dance,” blending and reimagining several elements from earlier movements, interspersed with lively prestos and comic dances.
The original suite is, of course, a gem in its own right, but I believe that this modest set of orchestrated movements bring some extra color and vibrancy to the story of Columbine, and may offer more orchestras the chance to perform the music of a singularly inventive and brilliant American composer. The instrumentation and scope here are less expansive and more accessible than that of her Symphony Op. 32 in E minor (“Gaelic”), for example, which I originally came across in a search for music to program for the Western Carolina Civic Orchestra. –Damon Sink, conductor, Western Carolina Civic Orchestra.
All Music guide by Joseph Stevenson. https://www.allmusic.com/composition/les-reves-de-colombine-suite-for-piano-op-65-mc0002376154
Wikipedia: “Columbina” – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Columbina
The fifth movement, Danse d’ Arlequin will be the most challenging, especially for younger string players. The whole work may be performed without second oboe doubling cor anglais; a few short passages from that part are also included in cues for other instruments.
Three movement suites are also possible, for example:
I. Valse Amoureuse (or Le Prince Gracieux)
II. Sous les étoiles
III. La Fée de la Fontaine
About the orchestrator:
Damon Sink is a composer, conductor, producer and faculty member in the School of Music at Western Carolina University, where he teaches music theory and orchestration courses and conducts the Western Carolina Civic Orchestra. He holds a DMA in composition from the University, of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of music, where he studied with Joel Hoffman, Samuel Adler and Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon.
In addition to his creative work as a composer, Dr. Sink is active in other areas of media production, video, film, and classical and jazz recording. He has served as a full-time music faculty member at Xavier University and The University of Dayton and founded dalSegno Media, an audio/visual production company. Other academic pursuits include topics in the history of music theory as well as the development of rich media modes of analytical presentation. He lives in Cullowhee, North Carolina
2 Oboes (2nd doubling EH – optional)
2 Clarinets in B flat and A
2 Horns in F
2 Trumpets in B flat
Percussion – Glockenspiel, Triangle, Cymbals, Tambourine, Bass drum