52 Weeks – Week 10 – Prologue/Overture
Today’s piece of music, presented in three forms:
“Prologue/Overture” from Travels
(For those not familiar with Travels, this may help.)
To quote from my Travels memoirs: “This was the first attempt at orchestration for the show. It was started mid-December of 1999 at Nate’s house when we were still trying to figure out how to work the whole process. This was even before it was decided that I do the orchestrations. It was mostly finished in December but touch-ups and other work were applied later before I printed it.”
And also from the overview in that same document: “When I first really started helping Nate in December of 1999 during my senior year of high school it was because I knew a lot more about Finale than he did. It had been decided for a while that I was to direct the pit orchestra, but the decision of who was doing the orchestrations wasn’t made until near the end of December. We had finally finished the first piano reduction for 1. Prologue/Overture at Nate’s house when I started playing with the orchestra parts to it. I asked Nate if I could also orchestrate the rest of the show, and he said something like, ‘Sure, whatever.’ Little did I know what I was getting myself into.”
Ah, the beginning of Travels. As was noted above, this piece I orchestrated at Nate’s house while he was still trying to figure out Finale. I’m not even sure that we had a firm instrumentation down at that point (for example, I wrote a guitar part for it before it became clear that we weren’t going to end up having a guitar player for the show).
Being the prologue, this piece was special for a number of reasons: it laid out the basic tenets of the plot, those being that the entire show was a flashback of Marco’s travels, that something horrible happened to Marco personally that he didn’t want recorded, and that now he’s been put in jail somewhere with a writer named Rustichello who’s writing everything down. Also this is one of only three pieces that has spoken dialogue in the entire show. In fact, according to Nate, all the spoken dialogue in the prologue comes directly from the actual book of Marco Polo’s travels itself. There’s not much to say about the music itself. It’s given a sort of regal, even martial feel with the staccato horns, snare drum, and steady beat, with a B section taken from a later piece in the show (“12. In These Mountain Tops”).
The overture is just a paraphrase of the main theme of the show (“6. Travels”) with a harp arpeggio at the end seguing into the second piece (“2. Day After Day”). This theme plays at various time skips or commencements during the show: here, when the show flashes back; during song #6, when Marco actually begins his travels; at the end of the first act, when Marco decides to change things (and we move to several months later when act 2 starts); at the end of the escape song before we return to the “present” Marco in jail, and finally to close out the entire show. That’s a lot of ground to cover for one theme. I’ll speak more about it if/when I talk about the song “Travels” itself.
Also one random note: this song let my brother Ben answer a Final Jeopardy! answer about a famous explorer who dictated his story to a prisoner in 1298. Ben was just playing along at home, but still, it was pretty neat.
Coming up next week: Mvmt. 2 of “Mixed Quintet? You Bet!” entitled “Endurance”!