Publisher: Chester Music
Trois Petites Marches funèbres (1916)
i. Pour un homme d’état (For a Statesman)
ii. Pour un canari (For a Canary)
iii. Pour une tante à heritage (For a Rich Aunt)
Chester Music Ltd
These three piano pieces are probably the best known of all Berners’ early works, though usually more through their reputation than through the music. The fact that, of the three - entitled respectively ‘For a Statesman’, ‘For a Canary’, ‘For a Rich Aunt’ - only that dealing with the death of the canary had any genuine pathos made the pieces immediately notorious. Critics were swift to point to a scale of values in which, while the pet is mourned, the death of an aunt evokes joy at the impending inheritance, and the funeral of a statesman (originally a ‘foreign minister’) is mocked for its drabness and vacuous pomp. Berners always felt that the French critic who protested at this sort of music “at a time when men devote and exhaust themselves to serve their country and secure its victory” had written the most flattering notice of all.
The pieces were the first of Berners' published music to be publicly performed - by Casella in March 1917 - and were first published in Italy, as well as being used in a variety of contexts later. Although the pieces are dissonant, they use extensions of a tonal musical language: at the climax of the first piece, the music is suddenly given a key signature of E-flat minor, and a short sequence form the last piece was used by Casella as an illustration in his book on the evolution of the perfect cadence. They each use the same kinds of ostinato effects and have a similarly extreme dynamic range.
© 1978 Gavin Bryars
Ian Patridge, tenor; Len Vorster, piano