Evanescence

André Prévost: Born in Hawkesbury, Ontario, July 30, 1934; died in Montreal, January 27, 2001

Évanescence was commissioned by the NAC Orchestra for performance in its first season (1969-1970). Mario Bernardi, the Orchestra’s music director, led the first performance on April 7, 1970. The score is dedicated to the National Arts Centre’s first director of music, Jean-Marie Beaudet.

Prévost writes that “from a free and almost impressionistic concept at the start, Évanescence evolves towards a complexity of writing and orchestration in which counterpoint has the principal role. Throughout this evolution, the music retains a constant lyricism that expresses itself both in spacious melodies and in an extremely static formal structure that is concerned as much with pitch and intervals as with nuances and timbres.”

Évanescence is aptly named: something vanishing, fleeting, passing into imperceptibility, and this is exactly how the word ends. In evocative words, the Canadian Music Centre’s Catalogue of Canadian Music for Orchestra describes the final moments of the composition: it “does not really finish; [it] disappears gradually, dwindles, effaces itself as it were, in a fade-out, leaving only an indecisive after-sound, a vague, impalpable impression that blends into, and accentuates, the atmosphere and the silence that preceded the work.”

The ten-minute composition is in a single movement in three connected sections. Following a brief introduction, violins begin a long, continuously unfolding melodic line. Gradually more and more contra puntal lines are added, the texture thickens, rhythmic motion increases, the volume grows. By the time the climax arrives, brass and percussion have taken the lead. Then follows a recapitulation of sorts, with the bassoon, barely audible through the dense fabric of sound, playing the melody initially entrusted to violins. The final pages return to the music of the introduction, rescored, there is one last upheaval from the brass and percussion, and the strings, to a steadily repeated four-note figure, begin their slow fade to the furthest reaches of audibility.

Robert Markow