Ritornello was commissioned by the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra with funding provided by the Manitoba Arts Council. The work was premiered on December 13, 2017 in Winnipeg. The orchestra was lead by Alexander Weimann and the soloists were Laura McDougall, flute; Caitlin Broms-Jacobs, oboe; and Karl Stobbe, violin.
Ritornello is intended as a companion piece to Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto #2. The 2nd Brandenburg is an example of the Baroque Concerto Grosso genre, which features the interplay between small and large groups of instruments. A distinctive feature of the 2nd Brandenburg is the use of the high virtuosic trumpet, heard only in the 1st and 3rd movements. As a marked contrast, the 2nd movement omits both the trumpet and the orchestral accompaniment. Because the instrumentation for Ritornello does not include trumpet, I turned to the 2nd movement of Brandenburg #2 as my starting point. All of the pitch material in this new work is derived from the first six notes of the violin line from Bach’s second movement.
Many Baroque concertos make use of ritornello form. In this form, a repeated section of music, the ritornello (literally, “the little thing that returns”) alternates with freer episodes. I wanted to be true to my source and explore some aspects of Baroque figuration, gesture, technique and, to some extent, harmony and texture. This new work is therefore rooted in this earlier music but develops into a more modern aesthetic as the piece unfolds.
The title, Ritornello, refers to the idea of a return: to the wonderful music of Bach as well as my own “return” to composition after a five-year absence. It is in one movement with three contrasting sections and is approximately 12 minutes in duration.