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A Discussion of Performance Practice Issues in Steven Stucky's Fanfares and Arias


Steven Stucky is a Pulitzer Prize-winning contemporary composer. His prolific catalogue of compositions range from large-scale orchestral works to a cappella miniatures for chorus. For 21 years he enjoyed a close partnership with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, beginning in 1988 as composer-in-residence and later becoming the orchestra's consulting composer for new music. He is also active as a conductor, author, lecturer and teacher. He has taught at Cornell University since 1980 and now serves as Given Foundation Professor of Composition. He is a frequent guest at colleges and conservatories, and his works appear on the programs of the world's major orchestras.

To date, he has contributed six works to the wind band repertoire: Voyages for Cello and Wind Orchestra (1983-84), Threnos: for Wind Ensemble (1988), Funeral Music for Queen Mary (1992), Fanfares and Arias (1994), Concerto for Percussion and Wind Orchestra (2001) and Hue and Cry (2006). A work of approximately 17 minutes, Fanfares and Arias remains Stucky's singular large-scale work for full wind ensemble, utilizing both the saxophone and euphonium sections.

This monumental work by a significant contemporary composer has so far eluded critical study by the wind band profession. Perhaps this neglect can be attributed to the inherent technical difficulty, as well as the relative esoteric nature of the piece: two characteristics that can have an effect on how often works are performed. Stucky's compositions are currently only available through the rental process; the prohibitive cost and procedure involved can also be a deterrent to potential performances.

The purpose of this study is to provide various insights into the performance practice issues of Fanfares and Arias as they apply to the conductor. Potential performance difficulties include the navigation of several passages involving mixed time signatures at a fast tempo. This paper will also examine the distinctive stylistic characteristics of Steven Stucky to better recognize how he utilizes his compositional techniques, such as his use of rhythmic and harmonic cells. This study will also investigate areas of concern for individual instruments in the ensemble - for example, techniques to facilitate the use of "slap-tongue" for the alto saxophone part will be explored. Tempo flexibility will be discussed, and, to this end, recordings of the piece will be used. A brief overview of Stucky's wind band works is included.

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