Aesop - Part 1 : Music and Musings
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Aesop - Part 1

by Jason McChristian on 04/24/15

My latest project is a work for Symphonic Band and Narrator based on several fables by Aesop. I have always been interested in works for narration and, for a number of reasons; I was immediately drawn to the idea of using Aesop's fables. First, there are numerous fables to choose from. The Perry Index reveals 725 different fables, though the authenticity of some of the fables has been questioned. Second, they are great tools for teaching morals to children. Some of the actions are rather graphic but the actions of the characters are muted through the employing of animals. Conveniently, animals are very easy to depict in music. Finally, they are old. Aesop, possibly, lived from 620-563BCE so the fables themselves are certainly in public domain, but the translations of these works may not be. Translations are protected under copyright; anything derived from a different language is subject to copyright if the translator created the work after 1923. Knowing this, I was very careful to choose the translations of Joseph Jacobs. His translations of the fables are from the end of the nineteenth century, while the vernacular is relatively up-to-date.   

After deciding on the Jacobs translation, the next step was to start choosing the right fables. My criteria for choosing the fables consisted of the following. First, I wanted to stay away fables containing words like "faggot." Though this word, in the context of the fable referred to a bundle of sticks, the word spoken aloud can easily elicit the derogatory modern meaning. I also wanted to stay away from fables that were too violent. One fable, for instance, had two characters discussing when finally, one devoured the other ending with the agonizing victim crying out the moral of the story. Though I chuckled, this music should be appropriate for all ages. Lastly, I was interested in staying away from fables that shared the same animal. Since I expected to create leitmotifs for each animal, I didn't want to represent the same animal with two different themes.

The final criteria lead me to consider whether the fables would be performed together (attacca) or performed separately. The only real question was whether I wanted to create transitions between each movement, which could result in each movement ending in possibly an unsatisfying way, or if I was going to create an ending for each movement. Finally, I chose the latter, though creating transitions is very artistically satisfying. (Then again, so is creating endings.) Creating an ending for each movement also affords the ability for a performing ensemble to chose to perform all of, or just a few of the movements, or, they can choose to mix and match the order as they wish.  So far, I have chosen seven fables, but I reserve the right to add or remove as the composing progresses.


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