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French Overture

by Anthony Ritchie, for orchestra, Opus 138

A substantial overture using a slow fast slow structure. Written while the composer was visiting Paris.

Programme Note

French Overture was composed for The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra on request from conductor Tecwyn Evans, for inclusion in the 2009 tour of the North Island. It is scored for a Classical sized orchestra, and adopts the structure of the French Baroque overture: slow-fast-slow. Some features in the music also suggest a neo-classical character, such as stern dotted rhythms at the start and a fugato section in the quick section.

The composer wrote this overture while on study leave in Paris, and it is informed by some of his experiences in that city: the plethora of ancient buildings and sites, the noise and bustle of the place, the people living on the streets. At one point a strange waltz emerges, reminiscent of music from an organ grinder. Another feature is a long, climbing melody on violins near the start of the overture, which represents the eye's search for light in Paris.

Surrounded by tall apartments, we have to look up to see beyond them, something a New Zealander is not used to doing. There is elegance in Paris but there is also a tough and forbidding quality that makes a strong impression on someone from a small, unpopulated country. When the stern opening returns late in the piece it finally subsides into something softer and more human, a folk-like version of the climbing melody, which now descends peacefully into a quiet timpani solo at the end.