Clifton Williams: Symphonic Dance No. 3 "Fiesta"

Ok, so I'm a little behind the times with this.  A lot of stuff happened this past week and frankly, I didn't have time to sit down and devote my usually exhaustive researching skills to writing the latest entry. So, I elected to take a week off.


This week marks a very important milestone in the history of Listening Friday on the web.  It is now officially one year since I first embarked on publishing my little LF assignments to the world (and mostly the Ukraine).  I can't say I have any remarkable or earth-shattering things to say about this other than...

Which is a lie.
So, Happy Birthday, ListeningFriday.com!  The actual birthday is March 18th, which also is Rimsky-Korsakov's birthday.  So there's that.  I guess we could do an entry about him.

But we won't.
Today is all about Clifton Williams (1923-1976) and a badass little piece he wrote called "Symphonic Dance No. 3 "Fiesta"".  Aside from generally being awesome for most of his life, the last professional position he held was on the faculty at the University of Miami where he worked with Alfred Reed and also taught composers such as W. Francis McBeth and John Barnes Chance (among others).

The San Antonio Symphony commissioned Williams to write a piece for their 25th anniversary and he created a five movement work that explored the many cultural influences that intertwine the fabric of the Southwest town.  The 5 dances are:No. 1: Comanche Ritual,  No. 2: Military Ball: The Maskers, No. 3: Fiesta (duh, try and keep up), No. 4: Square Dance, No. 5: New Generation.  Later, after these premiered, he went back and arranged 2 and 3 for concert band.  His former student (and equally prolific composer of wind band lit) W. Francis McBeth set the 1st movement for band, but wikipedia reports that Williams daughter is in possession of that manuscript.  The interesting movement now is that a lot of Williams' unpublished music is starting to be revealed and placed into print, almost 40 years after his passing.  Very cool from a composer that really had an understanding for composing for wind bands.

Plus, he rocks the goatee.

It is an interesting conversation to have, discussing the differences in the compositional worlds of band and orchestra.  John Mackie, a more recent and still very alive composer of several popular works for band, has a tremendously awesome blog entry detailing what it's like to be a composer caught between both worlds.  Here's an excerpt:
Band is loud. She’s not quite as pretty as Orchestra, and she’s a bit, shall we say, bigger-boned, but she has that truly “hot” aspect to her that Orchestra never had. And most importantly, Band loves what you do. Whereas it was like pulling teeth to get Orchestra to look at your new music (and if she looked, she was generally not impressed, often comparing you unfavorably to one of her many ex’s — like Dvorak), Band thinks it’s awesome. Band tells you things like “you’re special and perfect and I’ll appreciate you and your music like Orchestra never has, and never will.”
I would encourage you to read the full entry here. His blog is also pretty awesome in general, and probably more useful than this one at any rate.   Anyway, Williams was also caught between both worlds and became more successful in the then-burgeoning realm of concert band literature.

"Fiesta" is meant to evoke the emotions and sensory stimulation of a carnival-type atmosphere one might associate with the many...well, fiestas that occur in Mexican culture.  The lively street bands, the colorful costumes and parade floats, and of course bull fighting.

A blood sport to the core, the powerful image of the toreador taking on the massive bull evokes a lot of emotion and imagery (both good and bad) and Williams captures that in an immense brass section toward the middle of the work, precipitated by a solo trumpet herald.   This work reminds me of one of my favorite pieces of art, The Hallucinogenic Toreador by Salvador Dalí.  In this work, Dalí was inspired by a box of pencils he had bought that featured an image of the Venus de Milos on the front. Reportedly, he ran through the store, remarking to anyone who'd listen that there were two toreadors he was able to see within the visage of the goddess and thus this work was born.  Dalí himself was a big fan of bullfighting, growing up with it as a boy and thus he painted himself at a tender age, looking up toward the arena where the bullfighter blends into a mixture of Venus' (Venii?), gadflies and an expiring bull, while his wife's disembodied head floats angrily over the scene.

She didn't like the fights.
So I invite you to sit back, investigate some surrealism courtesy of Mr. Dalí and transport yourself to the Latin side of our continent with Mr. Williams.

See you next Friday.


PS.  I'll work on getting an entry for last Friday up later this weekend.  Pinky swear.