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Category Archives: Nelson, Ron

Conductor Leonard Slatkin described Ron Nelson (b. 1929) thusly:  “Nelson is the quintessential American composer.  He has the ability to move between conservative and newer styles with ease.  The fact that he’s a little hard to categorize is what makes him interesting.”  This quality has helped Nelson gain wide recognition as a composer.  Nowhere are his works embraced more than in the band world, where he won the “triple crown” of composition prizes in 1993 for his Passacaglia (Homage on B-A-C-H).  An Illinois native, Nelson received his composition training at the Eastman School of Music and went on to a distinguished career on the faculty of Brown University.

Nelson wrote Courtly Airs and Dances in 1995 on commission from the Hill Country Middle School Band in Austin, Texas, and their director Cheryl Floyd.  It is dedicated to that same group.  About the piece, Nelson writes:

Courtly Airs and Dances is a suite of Renaissance dances which were characteristic to five European countries during the 1500s. Three of the dances (Basse Dance, Pavane, and Allemande) are meant to emulate the music of Claude Gervaise by drawing on the style of his music as well as the characteristics of other compositions from that period. The festival opens with a fanfare-like Intrada followed by the Basse Danse (France), Pavane (England), Saltarello (Italy), Sarabande (Spain), and Allemande (Germany).

Ron Nelson’s website.

Ron Nelson on Wikipedia.

There are some great, free educational resources on Courtly Airs and Dances, including this article and analysis, this vocabulary sheet, and this quiz.  It is also featured on the Wind Repertory Project.

The San Francisco School of the Arts Wind Ensemble in a live performance:

Nelson uses a different Renaissance style for each movement.  The Intrada is entrance music, designed to begin a suite of music or serve for an entry procession.  This performance of an Intrada by German composer Christoph Demantius captures that spirit:

Nelson based his Intrada on Claude Gervaise’s Fanfare allemande (more on that later).

In general, a basse danse is in a slow and elegant 6/4 or 3/2, allowing for the use of hemiola.  Here is a reasonably authentic example of an early basse danse:

Nelson took his Basse Danse almost verbatim from Gervaise.  Here is another arrangement of it by the Belgium Brass:

The pavane is similar to a basse danse, being a slow and stately dance, but in duple meter and often faster.  Again, Nelson borrowed fairly directly from Gervaise:

The dance would have looked something like this:

The saltarello was a lively jumping dance whose specific steps have been lost.  Nelson wrote an original melody for his Saltarello, not relying on Gervaise.  Here is what a Renaissance saltarello may have sounded like:

The sarabande appears to have originated in the Spanish colonies in Central America before returning to Spain itself.  It was declared obscene and banned there in 1583.  It was in 3/4 time with the second and third beats often tied together, giving the rhythm a step-drag feel.  Nelson’s Sarabande relies on original material.  This sarabande example comes from the Baroque era, but it still demonstrates the rhythmic characteristics of the dance:

The allemande was a dance named in France for its supposed origin in Germany (the name means “German” in French).  It was a moderately fast duple meter dance that may have looked something like this:

Nelson again borrowed from Gervaise for this movement.  Here is a children’s flute choir version of Gervaise’s original:

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Conductor Leonard Slatkin described Ron Nelson (b. 1929) thusly:  “Nelson is the quintessential American composer.  He has the ability to move between conservative and newer styles with ease.  The fact that he’s a little hard to categorize is what makes him interesting.”  This quality has helped Nelson gain wide recognition as a composer.  Nowhere are his works embraced more than in the band world, where he won the “triple crown” of composition prizes in 1993 for his Passacaglia (Homage on B-A-C-H).  An Illinois native, Nelson received his composition training at the Eastman School of Music and went on to a distinguished career on the faculty of Brown University.

About Lauds (Praise High Day), Nelson writes:

Lauds (Praise High Day) is an exuberant, colorful work intended to express feelings of praise and glorification. Lauds is one of the seven canonical hours that were selected by St. Benedict as the times the monks would observe the daily offices. Three (terce, sext, and none) were the times of the changing of the Roman guards and four (matins, lauds, vespers, and compline) were tied to nature. Lauds, subtitled Praise High Day, honors the sunrise; it is filled with the glory and excitement of a new day.

Lauds received its world premier by the United States Air Force Band under the direction of Lt. Col. Alan L. Bonner at the College Band Directors National Association/National Band Association Conference in Charlotte, North Carolina on January 24, 1992.

Nelson is known for writing challenging parts for clarinet (and every other instrument), and Lauds is no exception.  Clarinetists, check out this forum about tremolo fingerings in the piece.

Lauds program notes at windband.org.

Ron Nelson’s website.

Ron Nelson on Wikipedia.

The Dallas Wind Symphony knocks it out of the park, as usual:

Conductor Leonard Slatkin described Ron Nelson (b. 1929) thusly:  “Nelson is the quintessential American composer.  He has the ability to move between conservative and newer styles with ease.  The fact that he’s a little hard to categorize is what makes him interesting.”  This quality has helped Nelson gain wide recognition as a composer.  Nowhere are his works embraced more than in the band world, where he won the “triple crown” of composition prizes in 1993 for his Passacaglia (Homage on B-A-C-H).  An Illinois native, Nelson received his composition training at the Eastman School of Music and went on to a distinguished career on the faculty of Brown University.

Nelson wrote Rocky Point Holiday in 1969 on a commission from the University of Minnesota Band for its Russian tour.  Its title comes from the place of its composition: Rocky Point, Rhode Island, where the composer was on vacation.  It was his first major wind band piece, and the first of his series of “holiday” themed compositions for band, all of which are popular and dramatic showpieces.  Rocky Point Holiday is notable for its transparent and colorful scoring.  This imaginative orchestration is a hallmark of Nelson’s style.

Ron Nelson’s website.

Ron Nelson on Wikipedia.

Review of Rocky Point Holiday on banddirector.com.

Information on Rocky Point Holiday at the Wind Repertory Project.

A rousing performance or Rocky Point Holiday by the West Texas A&M University Wind Ensemble:

Conductor Leonard Slatkin described Ron Nelson (b. 1929) thusly:  “Nelson is the quintessential American composer.  He has the ability to move between conservative and newer styles with ease.  The fact that he’s a little hard to categorize is what makes him interesting.”  This quality has helped Nelson gain wide recognition as a composer.  Nowhere are his works embraced more than in the band world, where he won the “triple crown” of composition prizes in 1993 for his Passacaglia (Homage on B-A-C-H).  An Illinois native, Nelson received his composition training at the Eastman School of Music and went on to a distinguished career on the faculty of Brown University.

Nelson himself provides a program note for Homage to Machaut, part of his 1983 Medieval Suite:

Medieval Suite was written in homage to three great masters of the Middle Ages: Leonin (middle 12th century), Perotin (c. 1155- 1200), and Machaut (c. 1300-1377). These are neither transcriptions of their works nor attempts at emulating their respective styles. Rather, the music served as a sort of launching pad for three pieces which draw on some of the stylistic characteristics of music from that period, e.g., repetition of rhythmic patterns or modes, modules of sound, proportions that produce octaves, fourths and fifths, use of Gregorian chant, syncopation, long pedal points where a sustained tone regulates melodic progression.

Homage to Machaut evokes the stately, gently syncopated and flowing sounds of this master of choral writing. The movement consists of a statement with two repetitions, each with different instrumentation. It closes with the same chant and instrumental textures which opened the suite.

Homage to Machaut was first performed March 18, 1983 at the National Conference of the College Band Directors National Association by the Western Michigan University Symphonic Band, Richard J. Suddendorf, conductor.

An unnamed band led by an unnamed conductor in a fine version of this piece:

Homage to Machaut at the Wind Repertory Project.

Ron Nelson’s website.

Ron Nelson on Wikipedia.

Guillaume de Machaut on Wikipedia.

Now for some context, an original Machaut vocal work: