The centerpiece of the main altar in St. Mary's church, Krakow, is both singular and extraordinary in respect to its design and portrayal. Scenes of Christ's life are arranged as sculptural tableaux on the front and back of two wooden side-panels that open and close. Once opened, they flank a central image that depicts the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. The dramatic novelty of Wit Stwosz' (1445-1533) centerpiece lies in the simultaneous focus on both Christ and the Madonna. Yet within this equal presentation, there is a clear focal progression from one to the other: the animation, vitality, and dramatic rhythm set in motion individually and collectively in the scenes on the movable side-panels lead to a flow of energy that, although not static, revolves within the single, spiritually focused event/portrayal of Mary's Assumption. Balance and direction are key to the dramatic design. The panels' combined dimensions equal the dimension of the central scene, the door-like (opening into) construction and the shift from eighteen events to one highlight and accentuate the clear forward/inward directional movement.
This structural and symbolic image may help explain the close and tender relationship between the two movements of my Sinfonietta for chamber orchestra: the association is suggestive: "side-panel(s)" (1st movement) lead to the central scene (2nd movement).
The ABA' form of the opening movement indicates a most obvious, basic notion: departure from-arrival at-return to. Essential to this linear process are elements of opposition and repetition. Opposition occurs on interacting technical, expressive, and stylistic structural levels. This, for example, the juxtaposition of solo vs. tutti (or groups of soli) not only reflect rather obvious oppositions of instrumentation, but also of the musical material directly shaped and defined by specific orchestral timbres. Key to the work's unfolding processes are the distributions and redistributions, associations and reassociations of musical material along harmonic, rhythmic, temporal, textural, and gestural considerations. Large-scale processes and local episodes are defined as much by repetition as by opposition. The central B section unveils a three-tiered musical continuum: a harmonic ostinato provides the base for a so-called "white" theme, a theme that continues to unfold while simultaneously giving rise to five variations that "colour" it.
It is predominantly this central B section that looks beyond itself, that emotionally arches forward and joins with the In Memoriam second movement. Even the solo viola passages from this B section is carried forth - only the colour of the solo changes, from a quasi una viol to a cello. This voice sings and laments, cries out and somehow weaves itself through the rounded structure until joining the full orchestra on a broad and climatic dramatic summit. Much like the forward-looking central section in the first movement, the view from this peak is not solely fixed on its own dramatic arrival; it looks out towards a second, but contrastingly, most introspective climax. In fact, the duality of the emotional content and intent that reflects the relationship between these two climatic plateaus echoes the larger relationship between the movements themselves: vibrant vs. reflective, charged dynamism vs. meditative, extrovert vs. intimate, 'side-panel(s)' vs. the central scene.
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