Sensations. - OB/PN
Composer: Agrell, Jeffrey
for oboe and piano
by Jeffrey Agrell - American composer and hornist
About the Music
Sensations has five movements, each inspired by one of the five senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. Each of the movements features two contrasting examples of each sense. The music written for each is not exactly a depiction of the title objects; the titles serve more as inspirations to generate the music, which, for each sense is a highly contrasting pair of musical styles.
I. (Hearing/Sound). Whispers/Hubbub - Whispers is soft, slow, and very free in pulse and expression. Whispers presents an unusual challenge for the pianist: motifs for each hand are suggested, but the two hands and their motifs are to be played independently of each other, not simultaneously. The pianist may play only one hand at a time or may overlap any motif with any other in any order. Rests may be introduced at any time. A pianist comfortable with improvisation is free to create their own free accompaniment in this section based on the mood of this part of the piece. The oboe part is written out, but the oboist is also free to extemporize on the part at any place at any time. Players are free to imitate or otherwise steal rhythmic or melodic ideas from each other. Thus, in both theory and practice, no two performances (or rehearsals!) of Whispers will be alike.
Hubbub is the opposite of Whispers: it is loud, fast, and heavily accented, often in an odd meter. Hubbub features lots of strident, swirling, and eccentric movement and motion, a jarring contrast to the peacefulness of Whispers.
II. (Smell). Perfume/Miasma - Perfume. The piano begins by establishing the exotic atmosphere of this section with some unusual harp-like sounds from inside the piano. The oboe uses some unusual scales to create smooth, liquid melody lines that convey a languid and haunting ambience.
The contrasting section, Miasma, is introduced by the piano with another spooky effect done inside the piano. A miasma is the opposite of perfume, and the music in this section depicts this by the oboe’s soaring angular melody over punchy rhythms in the piano. The contrast in this movement, then, is going from the soft and sensual to the aggressive and gritty.
III. (Taste). Chocolate/Pepper - Chocolate. This first half sweet section is depicted by a style that owes debts to blues, jazz, and Debussy. The following Pepper part of the movement provides a stark contrast by being mostly in the upper register and entirely staccato – no legato or slurs at all! Everything is short and definitely not sweet, owing to a number of half step collisions that depict pepper’s pizzazz, piquancy, and pungency.
IV. (Touch). Silk is all smooth sailing with an old-fashioned waltz feeling and familiar homey chord progressions. Then Sandpaper in part two rips off into a very different texture that is populated by heavy pounding dense chord crashes in the piano (sounding a bit like Le Sacre du Hautbois), especially when the pianist at one point reaches inside the piano and pounds a beat on the bare lowest strings of the grand piano. The oboe soars above the melee, taking sharp turns with wide leaps plus contrasting rhythms.
V. (Sight). Sundown opens with a solemn carpet of chantlike open fifth chords, over which the solo oboe sings a plaintive melody that soars ever higher, and finally winds down to a mysterious half step trill. Firelight, unlike the crunchier contrasts of previous movements, provides a smooth and amiable contrast with its fast flowing triplets and 16th notes, inspired by the flickering flames of a campfire. The final flourish ends the piece with a fast ascent to the unexpected interval of a tritone between oboe and piano.
About the Composer
Jeffrey Agrell was horn professor at The University of Iowa School of Music 2000-2021 after a first career as professional symphony musician. He has won awards as both a writer and composer, with dozens of compositions published, recorded, and performed worldwide, plus over one hundred articles and nine books, including Improvisation Games for Classical Musicians (2008) & Vol. II (2016).