Thursday, October 13, 2011

  BRIGADOON Orchestration: Full, Lush, Scottish--But No Bagpipes

Frederick Loewe wrote the much-admired musical score and the songs for Brigadoon. There were a few additions to accommodate choreographer Agnes de Mille’s dances (such as the Sword Dance), arranged from Loewe’s themes by Trude Rittman, described as “Broadway’s leading specialist in that particular craft.”

There were bagpipes in the Broadway production of Brigadoon, but they were used in one scene that was added to the script, and the music was apparently a traditional folk melody. It wasn’t part of Loewe’s score, nor were any bagpipes, as Paul Cummings notes in his comments on the orchestration he will conduct for the HSU production.

“We had the option of using the full orchestration, which probably dates back to the 1950s, or the reduced orchestration—what’s now often called the 'band-stration,' Cummings said. "Basically it eliminates the string section. We chose the full orchestration. Elisabeth and I agreed that having the strings is important, because we want to come as close to the original as possible. A lot of the beauty of the score comes from the string section. Also, we have the space in the Van Duzer Theatre to use 20 musicians in the pit.”

The orchestration calls for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, three trumpets, trombone, French horn and strings. But no bagpipes.

“No, the score is written for standard orchestra. There are bagpipe-like drones and bagpipe-style tunes all through the show, but there are no bagpipes in the original Broadway orchestration. Frederick Loewe managed to depict this Scottish culture through his own original music, without interpolating known folk melodies or using bagpipes and tin whistles. It’s a great show with great music, and I think Loewe really captured the Scottish spirit of it, and that’s what counts. We’re trying to be faithful to what he wrote.”

“Loewe was interesting because he was one of the great Broadway composers who was a specialist in this domain. He wrote mostly for the theatre. Yet he and Lerner are household names even now. This music has stood the test of time.”

Photo above: Fiona Rose Melia as Sword Dancer in Brigadoon at HSU

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