Dance Mix was inspired by our interest in finding ways to embrace wildly different musical styles without sacrificing continuity. The record presents a survey of Western dance music throughout the ages, ranging from a Renaissance estampie through the lilting Baroque of Lully and the genteel waltzes of Johann Strauss to the funky disco of the Bee Gees and finally to the hypnotic techno of Aphex Twin.
Johann Strauss (1825-1899): Unter Donner und Blitz, Op. 324 “Thunder and Lightning” — Polka schnell (1868)
Johann Strauss, known as the “Waltz King of Vienna,” is one of the most cherished and often-performed composers in his native Austria. The most famous of a family of composers which included his father, Johann Strauss I, and brother, Josef Strauss, Johann II was responsible for both popularizing the waltz and making it one of the most important genres of music in the 19th century. Over the course of a remarkable career which produced some of the most famous works in the genre, such as On the Beautiful Blue Danube, and the Pizzicato Polka, Strauss revolutionized the waltz, elevating it from a lowly peasant dance to high entertainment, fit for grand events and royal courts throughout Europe. In Fireworks’ version, the wonderful and startling orchestration of Strauss’s musical “thunder and lightning” is brought to life using the inherent discrepancies within Fireworks’ eclectic instrumentation: brash electronics and drums interrupt the playful and charming winds and strings to create a raucous and fiery opener.
Anonymous (14th Century): Istampita Palamento
The earliest piece from our survey, the Istampita (also known as "Estampie") is a medieval dance dating from about 14th century Italy. The Istampita is wordless melody, typically without accompaniment, consisting of several repeated phrases, alternating between harmonically open and closed endings. In our version, the melody is played in unison, but with the more agile instruments supplying florid and ornamented versions of the tune. The orchestration alternates between "soli" and "tutti" sections, allowing various members of the ensemble to be featured. The instrumentation is designed to capture some of the sounds that might have been heard in early performances of the piece, complete with our "low budget" version of the nasal-sounding shawm and krummhorn (early cousins of the modern oboe), represented here by two kazoos.
Franz Josef Haydn (1732-1809): Quartet No. 61 in D Minor, Op. 76 No. 2 "Fifths" (1797) — III. Menuetto: Allegro ma non troppo
This minuet, originally written as the third movement of Haydn's Op. 76 No. 2 string quartet, dates from the composer's late period under the employ of the Esterhazy court in Vienna. The minuet is very odd in that it is also a two-part canon, with the second voice imitating the first an octave below and a measure behind. This peculiar structure allowed us to play with some of the indigenous pairings within the Fireworks instrumentation: flute/saxophone, violin/cello, guitar/bass, and piano/marimba each get a chance to play the canon theme. We take some liberties at the end of the piece, actually recomposing Haydn's music to allow all eight voices to participate in a kind of mega-canon, in the relative key of F Major.
Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington (1899-1974): Don't Get Around Much Anymore (1942)
Ellington, the master of the swing-era big band sound, is arguably America's greatest composer. Duke's genius for creating arrangements based on the specific skills and sound qualities of the players in his band was one of the early inspirations for Fireworks, and it is great American art, worthy of attention alongside masterpieces of any style. We loved Ellington's orchestration and the sound of his band so much, that we wanted to find a way to not just arrange one of his tunes, but to actually let the original orchestration be the focus. The solution was to transcribe one of the classic performances of the hit Don't Get Around Much Anymore (from "The Great Paris Concert" of 1962), and then record the big band accompaniment parts as a backing track, on top of which Fireworks members could provide the melodies and solos.
Afx (Richard D. James, alias Aphex Twin) (b. 1971): Analogue Bubblebath (1991)
Analogue Bubblebath, an early work by the English electronic musician Richard James (aka AFX, and, more commonly Aphex Twin), is a classic example of the "acid house techno" style, which had its popular apex in the early 1990s. Though designed as a dance piece, and with the continuous thumping bass drum and layered percussion typical of the style, the rich ambience of the textured sounds accompanying the driving beat look forward to the composer's groundbreaking "ambient" style of a few years later. Originally a completely electronic work, Fireworks recreates "Analogue Bubblebath" with acoustic sounds only: in our version, the electronic drums timbres are provided by a variety of percussion sounds, strings and keyboard supply sustained layers and saxophone and slide whistle create the dreamy and playful "bubble bath" noises.
New Order (Peter Hook, Stephen Morris, Bernard Sumner, Gillian Gilbert): Blue Monday (1983)
Blue Monday is one of the most influential and distinctive dance songs from the 1980s, and is one of the biggest-selling singles of all time, despite being seven-and-a-half minutes long. The song is considered to be the primary link between the disco of the 70s and the House-style music of the 80s. As with other tracks on the record, Fireworks performs the largely electronic sounds with acoustic instruments.
Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687): Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme (Suite) (1670)
Court composer to Louis XIV, Lully's music embodies the joyful decadence of the French high Baroque style: pompous and stately Gavottes, Bourées, and Canaries complete with melodies teaming with trills, turns, and other ornaments create an atmosphere to match the splendor and majesty of the royal court. In our arrangement, the instruments such as the saxophone and the modern flute, alien to Lully's time, are deployed in unusual scorings (for example, with the low flute providing an accompaniment to a high cello or violin melody) to create the illusion of brass, reeds, and viols -- some of the sounds one might have heard in the Baroque orchestra.
The Bee Gees (Robin Gibb, Barry Gibb, Maurice Gibb): Stayin' Alive (1977)
Since no self-respecting survey of dance music would be complete without recognizing the contributions of the disco era, Fireworks concludes the disc with one of the genre’s most significant staples: the Bee Gees classic Stayin’ Alive, a work whose mere mention instantly conjures up images of the young John Travolta strutting his stuff in “Saturday Night Fever” for anyone who lived through the late seventies (usually along with other, more embarrassing memories of others trying to emulate his moves). Fireworks’ purely instrumental version of this classic dance track includes a disco “breakdown” of sorts, in which we pay homage to a host of other classic club favorites.
ABOUT FIREWORKS ENSEMBLE
An amplified chamber band known as “the bridge between the contemporary classical ensemble and the mainstream popular audience,” Fireworks has led the charge to bring a fresh perspective on chamber music to both established audiences and new generations of listeners. With a repertoire that includes Frank Zappa’s instrumental rock, dance music from around the world, classic cartoon music, traditional Americana, and arrangements of 20th-century orchestral works such as Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, Fireworks presents a distinctly American vision of chamber music. The ensemble tours throughout the United States each year and has appeared venues ranging from Carnegie Hall and The Library of Congress to nightclubs such as New York City’s (Le) Poisson Rouge and Tonic. Passionate about education and outreach, Fireworks has participated in Chamber Music America’s Residency Partnership Program and Carnegie Hall’s Musical Connections program, and is currently ensemble-in-residence at the Oregon Bach Festival Composers Symposium.