Analysis of a Scene from Atalanta

A performance of Ashley's opera Atalanta consists of three acts, representing Max (Ernst), Willard (Reynolds, Ashley's uncle), and Bud (Powell). Each act consists of an "Odalisque," "Character Reference," and "Anecdote." The Anecdote sections are backgrounded by improvisations around a characteristic melody. The melodies for Max, Willard, and Bud are given below in Ashley's notation:

As noted at the top of this diagram, the Anecdote scenes run in three-minute sections, after which the melody is repeated. The melody is treated quite freely, usually recognizable only by the occasional appearance of its characteristic motives, with improvisation by "Blue" Gene Tyranny in-between. Each such verse is interrupted about two and a half minutes in by an "admonition" - in the case of Max, it's "You ought to be an employee of the state" - followed by a half-minute "love song" for the singers in chorus. In the case of the Max Anecdote scene from the first Lovely Music recording of Atalanta, this structure appears eight times. In that recording, the timings of the beginnings of each scene, the time spent on the characteristic melody, and the love song are as follows:

Beginning:Melodic improv:Love Song timing:Love Song text:
0:000:07-1:462:25-2:55No, never, no, never again
2:563:16-5:095:30-6:00Nothing you could ever do will make it all right
6:026:17-8:328:33-9:04No matter how you ask me
9:069:16-11:3511:36-12:08Only had one heart you broke it in two
12:07no background improv14:40-15:09No, never, no, never again
15:0915:09-17:2017:43-18:1Nothing you could ever say will change it now
18:1418:18-20:4420:46-21:17No matter how you ask me
21:1821:25-23:4823:50-24:21Only had one heart you broke it in two

You can listen here to two of the improvisations on the Max melody, the first and eighth, here:

Max Anecdote, verse 1: 0:07 to 1:46
Max Anecdote, verse 8: 21:25 to 23:48

For comparison, here's a scene from the Willard Anecdote with an improvisation on the less obvious Willard melody, notated on the second line above:

Willard Anecdote, verse 2: 3:26 to 5:09

The Love Songs for Max are notated as follows:

You can buy the recording of Atalanta via Lovely Music or via Amazon.

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