Proms premiere – Gary Carpenter: Dadaville


BBC Symphony Orchestra / Sakari Oramo (Prom 1)

Duration: 7 minutes

Watch here (Dadaville begins at 2:29)

Dadaville begins at 11:30

What’s the story behind the piece?

Dadaville c.1924 Max Ernst 1891-1976 Purchased 1983

Dadaville c.1924 Max Ernst 1891-1976 Purchased 1983

Dadaville is a musical response to the painted relief by Max Ernst shown above. What appears to be an iron wall in the imposing structure is actually made of cork, flimsy enough to be kept behind glass.

Carpenter bases his piece on the notes D – A – as in the first two letters of the painting’s name – and uses the nine letters of the word as the basis for the structure of the piece.

The tuba takes a starring role, allocated a nine bar bass line in the middle that the orchestra build on comprehensively, while towards the end of its 180 bars (20×9!) there is a reference to Beethoven’s Symphony no.9.

Did you know?

Gary was the Associate Musical Director on the film The Wicker Man. Among the many instruments he played during the recording of the film are piano, recorders, ocarina, fife and the Nordic lyre. You can read his recollections of recording here

Initial verdict

A piece obviously composed with the First Night in mind, especially if the surprise pyrotechnics at the end were anything to go by! Yet Carpenter largely succeeded in his musical sketch of Max Ernst’s Dadaville, with a piece that was both fragile and robust – just like the painted relief itself.

It was particularly good to see the tuba and bass clarinet given starring roles, making use of a swinging bass line of jazzy syncopations, while some of the string lines recalled Debussy and, at the opening, Britten.

Second hearing

There is an air of tension at the beginning of this piece in the cold string lines, but soon the energy begins to be released. The orchestral textures are crisp and clear.

The piece really acquires its direction once the tuba and bass clarinet are called into action from 6:55, and this low bass line generates the energy for the rest of the piece, which really starts to swing, all the while leading towards the fireworks at the finish. It completes a score with an impressive array of sounds and an appealing, uplifting mood.

Where can I hear more?

From Gary’s Soundcloud page, here is his Saxophone Quartet The North:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.