Concerto for Marimba and Orchestra, No. 2, op. 25

(the beginning of the 3. movement)

“…But rhythm – that is when deep inside the dormant,
archaic impulse of the soul frees itself and flows, unrestricted,
to the surface like an effervescing fountain.
It is at this fountain that the thirst for the pulsation
of harmony can be quenched…”
N. J. Zivkovic

By Dr. Ira Prodanov

When one mentions a concert for a solo instrument and orchestra, one usually thinks of a three-movement form with two mutually opposed sound sources that become “reconciled” in the closing bars of the work. A solo cadenza is almost assumed. However, the Concerto No.2 for marimba and orchestra1 by Nebojsa Jovan Zivkovic2 we refer to is, in many ways, an exception compared to standard compositions of this kind. First of all, the instrument counterposed to the orchestra is the marimba3, an old African percussive source of sound, hardly imaginable in the setting of a symphony ensemble. Another exception is the fact that the author again decided upon this musical form, which we consider classical, and with good reason.

“…I intended to span the broadest possible spectre of elements not only in relation to the construction of the work, but in relation to the construction of the instruments. I wanted to unite the quintessence of Nature and archaic elements (rhythm as the primal origin of every music, as something that gives birth to music), theatrical qualities and a new articulation of tonality with the ‘classical’ tonal language of this century and produce some kind of – New Music. Only such a unity can represent the free expansion (quasi trans-avantgardism) of present day music…”, I paraphrase the words of Nebojsa Jovan Zivkovic, whose Second Concerto for Marimba and Orchestra represents the musical elucidation of its composer’s credo.

Zivkovic’s three-movement Concerto for Marimba and Orchestra a due, with reinforced percussion section and the harp, resembles the traditional formal solution of a sonata cycle of this kind – only in the number of its movements. Nevertheless, the formal patterns of the movements do not correspond to the traditional distribution: sonata-form, a complex three-part song- rondo. They look more like a series of three musical entities where, owing to the programmatic idea of the work, the sounds of the instruments of totally different cultures first “rival” one another, then unite. The expected soloist cadenza from the first movement, therefore, re-emerges in the last. Nevertheless, even if the author did not follow the classical musical forms in conceiving the concert, the character of this three musical wholes is traditional: the first is the exposition (but not in sonata form), the second movement is slow while the third, not the simple “dance in the circle” of the rondo, but rather a scherzo with an expressionistic, pagan intonation.

As the author himself says, this concerto is a kind of ritual where an individual is accepted into a community after a certain ritual of “initiation”. Symbolically, it is the marimba, an instrument entirely foreign to the classical orchestral ensemble, that is “accepted” into the group. Essentially, involves the problem of conflict between the traditional and the new, where, paradoxically, the new is older than the old. Such a bond in fact represents a unity of folklore music ( taken in the broader sense) with art music, and its final results offers a certain type of ethnic style in the music written at the end of this century.


The programmatically conceived

(Initiation of the Wood) – introduces the participants with the “dim”, “indefinite”, “foreboding” repetition of “arche-motifs” in the introductory part of the instrument that has the task of “proving” itself and the orchestra that “appraises” it. It is a free three-part form (slow-fast-slow) with a continuos dialogue between the soloist and the tutti based on an analogous musical material derived from the initial musical nucleus assigned to the marimba. The Phrygian mode in D is the modal foundation of this movement, although the modal center is changed in its central part. The musical subject-matter of the first movement, after its introductory section, comprises a ritual dance governed by the art of the mixed-rhythm, where the marimba represents both: a percussion and the melodic instrument that carries the main theme of the ritual, later treated in variations, i.e. deconstructed, in other groups of instruments. The new theme in the orchestra, simultaneous with the main theme, is only a “background” for the marimba’s solo performance. This support of the soloist theme is the symbolic sign of “acceptance” by the community, and the solemnity of that moment is reinforced by an expansion of the percussive body with Chinese gongs and Christian liturgy glockenspiel. The absence of the main soloist cadenza from this movement is entirely justified. In a classical concerto, it represents the solo instrument as the main sound source that dominates the whole orchestral body but that could not happen here, at least not in the first movement. Because it has just been accepted, only after being “interwoven” in the second movement, the marimba is “permitted” to distinguish itself in the community towards the end of the third movement. However, even in the first two movement, this work has soloist entries of the marimba, and its virtuoso tonal possibilities are in the forefront. One could say that this is a characteristic feature of the author, the feature justified by the concerto form of the work (as stated in its title).