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1 - ‘Chronically volatile’

Gesture in Adès’s Living Toys and America: A Prophecy

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 November 2021

Edward Venn
Affiliation:
University of Leeds
Philip Stoecker
Affiliation:
Hofstra University, New York
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Summary

The chapter explores two of Adès’s early works – Living Toys for fourteen players (1993) and America: A Prophecy, for soprano solo and orchestra with optional chorus (1999) – from the perspective of gesture as an 'energetic shaping' of sound (after Robert Hatten). Analyses synthesise small-scale events to wider emergent dramatic and expressive networks. The 'volatile' gestural sequence in Living Toys is a function of the score’s overtly programmatic scheme of seven dream-like scenarios, with a returning 'Hero’s' theme centre-stage in a score rich in agent-like instrumental solos. In America, gesture communicates a historical-mythic sequence, evoking the impending catastrophe of the sixteenth-century military conquest of Mayan civilisation by Spanish conquistadors. History runs its awful course in a sequence recounted verbally by the solo soprano as priestess. A gestural perspective elucidates Adès’s large-scale drama of complex images. Fracturings of musical tempo create an image of Mayan calendrical movement: triadic brass music evokes the moment of encounter, a 'battle' scene.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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