Gillingham's highly programmatic Internal Combustion is a celebration of the birth of the American automobile. Using motives from the song "In My Merry Oldsmobile" and, of course, some original ideas as well, the history of the internal combustion engine comes to life with the turn of a crank, the honk of a horn and a journey through several musical styles, including ragtime, dixieland, 50s ballad and more modern jazz.
Genre: Band | # of Players: Standard
Level: 5 | Duration: 11:30
Bb Clarinet 1
Bb Clarinet 2
Bb Clarinet 3
Eb Contrabass Clarinet
Alto Saxophone 1/2
Bb Trumpet 1
Bb Trumpet 2
Bb Trumpet 3
F Horn 1/2
F Horn 3/4
Timpani (4 drums)
Percussion 1 (bells, concert snare drum, 4.5-octave marimba, tam-tam, crash cymbal)
Percussion 2 (crash cymbal, xylophone, large tam-tam, vibraphone, suspended cymbal)
Percussion 3 (slap stick, crash cymbal, wind chimes, ratchet, drum set, metal plates)
Percussion 4 (bass drums, brake drums, old time "oogah" car horn, chimes)
Although the internal combustion engine was in existence since the early 19th century, its successful use in the United States began around 1900 and thus marked the beginning of one of the most important industrial sagas of the 20th century, that of the American automobile. Adjacent to the invention of this new "horseless carriage" was the advent of early jazz, that of "ragtime" and New Orleans "Dixieland" jazz. Also marking the occasion was General Motors' introduction of the Oldsmobile and the Gus Edwards/Vincent Bryan song, "In My Merry Oldsmobile." The conglomeration of these events are the basis for the inspiration behind Internal Combustion.
The work is centered around two main thematic ideas – motives from "In My Merry Oldsmobile" and what the composer calls the "Song of Invention" which is related to "Merry Oldsmobile" by the obvious interval of a major sixth. Added to this thematic material is a multitude of references to the mechanistic nature of the internal combustion engine, the automobile and automobile horns )the old time "oogah" and the American luxury car variety using the interval of the third).
The work starts with the anticipation of invention with some obvious allusions to the "Merry Oldsmobile" tune. The introductory material leads to the "Song of Invention," expressively stated by solo alto saxophone. Then, the crank is turned (ratchet) and we're off for a ride! One should easily hear tha "putt-putt" of the engine, the whistle of the wind and the steam from the radiator. The automobile gathers speed and begins to cruise along joyously... hence a dixieland rendition of "Merry Oldsmobile." The frolic is interrupted by gathering speed and further development and refinement of the automobile and its internal combustion engine. Along the way, one will hear more references to "Merry Oldsmobile," car horns (traffic congestion!) and even a "revving" engine. Unfortunately, in America, "speed is the thing," and the music comes to a screeching halt with a crash and jammed car horn segues into a melancholy lament. This section culminates with a simplistic and child-like presentation of "Merry Oldsmobile" in the percussion (bells/vibraphone). An engine "rev" (trombone flutter tongue) gives way to new and better things on the horizon and perhaps of the "hay days" of the automobile, the 1950s. Within this section can be heard the triplet rhythm of a stereotypical 50s ballad. The 50s give way to the final decades of the 20th century beginning with a reference to modern jazz. The music begins to develop and becomes more sinister in nature perhaps indicative of the mixed blessing the automobile has bestowed upon us. Finally, however, the music leads to a dramatic presentation of the "Song of Invention." Despite its mixed blessing, the automobile is an invention to be celebrated; it has undisputedly changed the world! The music changes into a moment of reflection with a reprise of the "Song of Invention" by solo alto saxophone giving way to an intense, fast and spirited finale.
David R. Gillingham