Missy Mazzoli’s Overture is from her chamber opera Songs from the Uproar: The Lives and Deaths of Isabelle Eberhardt. It was written in 2012 and lasts about 75 minutes in total. The opera is scored for instruments that are deeply rooted in the Western Classical tradition along with some outliers. The instrumentation includes mezzo-soprano solo, SSATB choir, flute, clarinet, electric guitar, piano, double bass. It is important to note that Mazzoli also includes electronics throughout the work. In Overture, the electronics primarily provide a static ambient background noise that is used at the beginning and ending of the work. Once Overturebegins with the electronic static sounds, it does not give a clear indication to the listener of what to expect.
The beginning is monophonic in texture, as the only voice is a lone vocal singing in a very melismatic style. By gradually adding more instruments and electronic effects, Mazzoli is able to gradually increase the density of the texture, which is very busy. The piece becomes polyphonic with the inclusion of the clarinet and piano, which introduce more rhythmic activity. As the piece builds, a second voice is introduced over the constant rhythm from the piano. This is the first time that there is a consistent rhythmic pattern, and also Mazzoli introduces contrapuntal activity with a second female voice. This leads to a moment where the SSATB choir becomes very prominent at the climax of the piece. It is at this point that the ensemble reaches the loudest dynamic thus far. The piece gradually begins to become more monophonic in texture, ending with solo voice and electronics.
When it comes to musical elements of this piece, they reflect the compositional style of other pieces that Mazzoli has written. The overall form of the piece is certainly through-composed. While some sections may be similar to earlier events, there is no exact repetition of musical material throughout the piece. There is also no clear sense of tonality throughout the work. Mazzoli provides several different types of consonant, dissonant, and cluster chords to blur any sense of tonal center. The use of the electronics also provides an ambient background that creates a form of dissonance that clashes against the sustained vocal lines and rhythmic piano part. For overall dynamic range, Mazzoli explores this musical area by gradually growing from the beginning of the piece then fading away similarly to the end. The climax of the piece has the loudest dynamic, and also includes the most voices, higher registers of the woodwinds, and a thicker texture. This combination makes it clear where this important moment of the piece is. As Mazzoli’s work ends, the vocal part gradually lowers in dynamic while also being altered electronically. This ties this work together by providing musical material that was introduced in the beginning. However than being long sustained notes; the lone melody is presented very staccato-like. Mazzoli’s composition presents the listener with a unique aural experience by using several different musical, instrumental, and compositional elements.
“Overture” by Missy Mazzoli. Youtube Video, 6:14. Posted by “collectablesblog,” January 19, 2013. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1TVSNypm5sc