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John Corigliano

Publisher: G. Schirmer

The Mannheim Rocket (2000)
G Schirmer Inc
Sub Category
Large Orchestra
Year Composed
11 Minutes
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Programme Note
John Corigliano The Mannheim Rocket (2000)
Composer note:

I first heard The Mannheim Rocket in a music history course in my freshman year at college. The term was used to describe a musical technique perfected by the Mannheim Orchestra in the 18th century in which a rising figure (a scale or arpeggio) speeded up and grew louder as it rose higher and higher (hence the term “rocket”).

As a young music student, however my imagination construed a very different image — that of a giant 18th-century wedding-cake-rocket, commandeered by the great Baron Von Münchausen, and its marvelous journey to the heavens and back.

It was this image that excited me when I was asked to write a work for the Mannheim Orchestra: I knew I had to recreate the rocket of my young imagination and travel with it through its adventures.

And so this ten minute work begins with the scratch of a match and serpentine 12-tone fuse that sparkles with light and fire. The ignition leads to a slow heaving as the giant engine builds up steam. The “motor” of the rocket is a very low, very slow “Alberti bass,” the accompaniment pattern that has served as the motor of so many classical pieces.

To get started, I included a quote from one of the originators of the “Mannheim Rocket,” Johann Anton Wenzel Stamitz (1717-57). The stately opening of his Sinfonia in Eb (La Melodia Germanica No. 3) uses a scalar “rocket” to lift our heavy structure and starts it on its way.

This is the first in a series of quotes as the rocket rises and moves faster and faster, climbing through more than two hundred years of German music, finally breaking though a glass ceiling to float serenely in heaven.

There the rocket and crew are serenaded by tranquil “Music of the Sphere.” But what comes up must come down, and with a return of the opening fuse-music, the descent begins.

The rocket accelerates as flashes of the ascent- backwards — mark the fall. Just before the inevitable crash, Wagner tries to halt things, but the rocket is uncontrollable: even he cannot stop it. After a crunching meeting with terra firma the slow heaving and Alberti-bass-motor die away as we hear a fleeting memory of heaven, and, finally, a coda composed of a Mannheim Rocket.

— John Corigliano

  • Ensemble
    Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra
    John Storgårds
The Mannheim Rocket, American composer John Corigliano’s cartoonish time-travelogue through German music history, traverses from the auditory ooze of interstellar space (or what we might imagine it to be) to the orchestral din of the last three centuries. Its vehicle is propelled not by jet fuel, but by percussion. The score calls for such instruments as a lion’s roar, theremin and swanee whistle, in addition to more conventional instruments. Wafting by were quotes from Brahms, Haydn, Mozart, Wagner and several other heirs of the Mannheim School’s 18th century innovations, up to and including Karlheinz Stockhausen. Like the Tower piece, it fit squarely into what will likely be one of Izcaray’s and ASO’s focuses — gritty and challenging, yet entertaining, and audience-accessible music.
Michael Huebner,,19/09/2015
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