Today the spotlight is on Frank Ticheli’s “Wild Nights!” This grade 4 concert band piece, recently added to SmartMusic, is a joyous, colorful seven-minute musical journey inspired by Emily Dickinson’s poem:
Wild Nights! Wild Nights!
Were I with thee,
Wild Nights should be
Futile the winds
To a heart in port,—
Done with the compass,
Done with the chart.
Rowing in Eden!
Ah! the sea!
Might I but moor
Tonight in Thee!
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Background from Frank Ticheli:
Numerous composers have set the words of “Wild Nights!” to music (Lee Hoiby’s song setting and John Adams’ Harmonium, come immediately to mind). However, to my knowledge, no one has used this wonderfully sensuous poem as the basis for a purely instrumental tone poem. This was my aim, and in so doing I focused most heavily on the lines “Done with the compass, /Done with the chart” and “Rowing in Eden! /Ah! the sea!” These words suggested the sense of freedom and ecstatic joy that I tried to express in my work.
Throughout the piece, even during its darker middle section, the music is mercurial, impetuous, optimistic. A jazzy syncopated rhythmic motive permeates the journey. Unexpected events come and go, lending spontaneity and a sense of freedom. The work is composed in five distinct sections, but contained within each section are numerous surprises and a devil-may-care swagger. Surprises are found at every turn, and continue right through to the final cadence.
“Wild Nights!” was commissioned by the California Band Directors Association in celebration of their 50th anniversary.
“Wild Nights!” Performance Notes
The piece falls into five main sections; however, within each section, the music flows with considerable freedom.
A Section (mm. 1 to 65)
It is crucial that the Percussion 4 player(s) have both a large bass drum and a pedal bass drum. The pedal bass drum, with its dry, compact thud, is crucial as an accompaniment to the marcato/staccato low brass notes (e.g., mm. 6, 13, 16, etc.), whereas the large bass drum is used where a more resonant and sustained sound is called for.
Rhythmic precision is crucial whenever the syncopated motive occurs, especially when it is played by upper woodwinds and doubled in the mallet percussion instruments (e.g., mm. 8, 15, 26, 29, 31, etc.). Because of the physical distance between the mallets and upper woodwinds, it may require some creative effort to get the two forces exactly together.
The timpani solo in mm. 56-59, marked fff with accents [!], must compete with a loud tutti passage, and therefore should be played as aggressively as possible.
B Section (mm. 66 to 152)
This section is darker in quality, but with the sense of urgency still present. In measures 69- 76, the alto saxophone melody must sound above the rest of the ensemble. The answering woodwind/mallet triplets and muted trumpet triplets should be equally aggressive, and, once again, the rhythmic synchronization between the upper woodwinds and mallet instruments may require some attention in rehearsals (e.g., mm. 69-70).
At m. 77, the flute and piccolo join in at a tenth above the saxophone melody. But the oboe 1/trumpet 2 countermelody should not be overlooked either. Make sure they too are heard.
At mm. 85-95, the “majestic” trumpet solo must soar above the chattering woodwinds. If necessary, either drop the woodwinds one dynamic level (my first preference) or change the trumpet passage from solo to tutti (my second preference).
At mm. 96-117, the clarinets and saxophones sound in the foreground, but it is also important that one hear the little interjections sounding all around them (e.g., upper woodwinds in m. 97, trumpets in m. 99, 103, etc.).
In mm. 118-123, the parallel tenths sounding in the bassoon and euphonium/tuba must sound secure and confident. Well-played accents and rhythmic accuracy will enhance this quality. The bell-like fp tones may be exaggerated as ffpp and must also be dead-on rhythmically.
A’ Section (mm. 152 to 194)
The music bursts out joyfully as a signal for the return of the main material. All which applied in the first A section still holds here. This return is shorter, but is otherwise very similar to that of the beginning. The conductor may wish to point out some of the variations which occur here (e.g., compare mm. 18-28 with mm. 167-177).
C Section (mm. 195 to 239)
An unexpected oasis appears out of nowhere in mm. 195-199, but it is still beating urgently underneath its calm exterior. The accents and sixteenth-note rocket-gestures remind the listener that this journey offers no rest.
The little double-tongued episode at mm. 200-203, and the longer solo marimba episode at mm. 206-213 are two more examples of the kinds of unexpected surprises marking the journey. The marimba plays in the foreground, but not so loudly that it overpowers the clarinets and muted brass interjections. (During rehearsals for the premiere, I was amazed at how loud the marimba passage could be if not controlled!) Similarly, be sure that the temple blocks are not overplayed, but instead in balance with the muted brass chords.
Some tricky hocket-like passages occur in mm. 218-221 between the horns/saxes and trumpets and timpani/pedal bass drum. Ensemble accuracy is crucial here. The quick interchanges are extremely effective if played with rhythmic precision.
Coda (mm. 240 to 252)
Before launching headlong into the coda, allow ample time for the sound to clear in the preceding bar, almost giving the listener the impression that the piece ends at m. 239. Then go! The end of the journey is in sight, but brings with it one final surprise: the last two chords are transposed a half-step higher than expected, and are suddenly held back a bit tempo-wise, as though you are suddenly pulling hard on the reigns of a horse just before it runs over the edge of a cliff. Whoa! Sustain the final chord at its full value (or perhaps a hair longer?) to give the full dramatic effect.
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