The Tyranny of Fun

for ensemble

Richard Baker

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Composer Richard Baker
Year of Composition 2012
Duration ca.20'
Forces fl/picc, ob, cl/, bcl/cbcl/cl, bn/cbn, hn, tpt, tbn, keyb, elec, vln, vla, vc, db
Categories (all composers) ,
Catalogue ID ce-rb1ttof1


In 1994, as a student in Amsterdam, I read an interview in The Observer with theatre director Richard Eyre in which he described his childhood as ‘a tyranny of fun’ – in particular, the way in which his parents tyrannised their friends and family with a ceaseless round of parties and amusements, as a distraction from their own ennui and desperation. This piece is my response to Eyre’s very resonant phrase, and the various musical and extra-musical thoughts it provoked as the century turned.

Structurally, the piece is a ‘cheap imitation’ (in homage to John Cage) of George Balanchine’s great ballet La Valse. Pairing together Ravel’s Valses Nobles et Sentimentales and La Valse itself, Balanchine made explicit what many commentators had long suspected – that Ravel took inspiration for La Valse from Edgar Allen Poe’s short story The Masque of the Red Death. Ravel’s musical source material was the Viennese waltz tradition. Mine comes from more recent dance music, specifically late 70s and early 80s disco – the sound of the great super-clubs of New York in their decadent heyday, just before the first wave of the AIDS epidemic hit – as literal and terrifying a ‘red death’ as that which Poe had imagined.

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