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The Amadeus Suite

Guy Barker

The Amadeus Suite

The first idea for this music came from a great friend of mine, a lawyer named Peter Thompson. I had got to know him over the years during several visits to the Hong Kong Jazz Club of which he was one of the directors.

He is a great music lover and has two main passions; opera and jazz. He suggested that one day I might compose a suite of jazz pieces inspired by characters from Mozart’s operas and perform it at the Glyndebourne Festival.

This didn’t work out but I started work on the suite anyway. Peter sent me a synopsis of each of his favourite characters and I read a lot about the operas as well as listening to them on CD as often as I could. The most important thing for me was not to touch the music. This was all about personalities - how I saw them and the moods they created.

1. The Don’s Hit List

‘The Don’s Hit List’ is for Don Giovanni. In this I tried to get the feeling of a lecherous, slimy swaggering character, and at the end, his demise where the spirit of the commandent kills him and drags him down to hell. The interlude before the piano solo is in fact a much slowed down and re-harmonised part of the ‘Champagne aria’ (but as dark as possible).

2. Taken for a dance

‘Taken for a dance’ is for Leporello, the Don’s much-mistreated servant. The opening statement hopefully creates the sound of him crying out his misfortunes, and leads us into the sound of him running around frantically doing everything he can to keep his master happy to the point of dancing the slightly bizarre waltz which follows.

3. Like the Devil

‘Like the Devil’ is for Despina, the cheeky chambermaid in ‘Così fan tutte’. I imagined her as the kind of maid you might see in a bad 60s B movie. But she loves Jazz and here we find her cleaning the house while dancing to 60s Blue Note records, particularly Lee Morgan’s ‘The Sidewinder’.

4. How sweet the breeze

‘How sweet the breeze’ is for the Countess Almaviva. I felt she was the most lonely and betrayed character, so this ballad named after the opening line from the poem she dictates to Susanna in ‘The Marriage of Figaro’ had to be for her.

5. No Fandango

‘No Fandango’ is for Figaro. As simple and straightforward a character as he is, he came across to me as a good man who secretly would love to be the hero, so I tried to give this a really optimistic and gentle feel to it.

6. Catch the Bird

‘Catch the Bird’ is for Papageno, the bird-catcher in ‘The Magic Flute’. I likened him to many jazz musicians, because when we study and perform modern jazz we are ultimately starting with the music of Charlie Parker… ‘Bird’. As jazz musicians we spend our lives trying to play this music and we are always trying to catch the ‘Bird’. This was always on my mind while I was writing this piece.

In the opera, the magic flute is protection for Tamino, a Javanese prince; hence some oriental flute playing from Perico Sambeat at the beginning. Hopefully by the end we do catch the bird. On the way we pass by three other birds: ‘Bird Food’ by Ornette Coleman’, ‘Reincarnation of a love bird’ by Charles Mingus and ‘Flamingo’. Apologies for the bad musical jokes but by this point the composing was nearly complete and maybe it was a last nervous smile before hearing how it would sound once the guys in the band got hold of it.

Hope you enjoy it,

Guy Barker.


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