Laura Elise Schwendinger

Mise-En-Scene (2011) 14:00

for flute (alto, picc), clarinet (bass), violin, cello and percussion.

A Boston Musica Viva Commission, premiered by BMV May 6, 2011.

Richard Pittman, Music Director


Review of Mise-En-Scene with the Boston Musica Viva

How many "scene stealing" works cheekily quote Beethoven 9, allow the percussionist to "kill off" the ensemble with rim shots and mock them with the sound of a duck quacker and vibraslap, thenallow the ensemble to subvert a poor violinist's wishes to play Estrellita and later have her "mourn" them (after the aforementioned rimshots) in a moving and poignant Soliloquy...all while visiting play forms like the Melodrama, Mystery, and Theater of the Absurd?

In her review of Mise-En-Scene, Elisa Birdseye wrote in the Boston Musical Intelligencer "The title of the program derived from the world premier centerpiece of the evening, Laura Elise Schwendinger’s Mise-en-scene (2011). But it also provided a context for the other pieces on the program. Schwendinger explained before the performance that mise-en-scene refers to all the elements (lighting, sound, props, stagecraft, etc) which create the feel and image seen in either a theater piece or a film. Her work, in nine short, continuously played movements, described a story, and even without program notes, it would have been possible to imagine what was going on onstage. She described her music as “zany,” but perhaps another term would be “looney” in the sense of the fiendishly difficult and evocative music by Carl Stallings that underpinned the familiar Looney Tunes cartoons. Schwendinger’s music was clear, delightful, and descriptive, almost an opera without words."



*First Excerpt

1.The Curtain Rises...
2.The Setting...


*Second Excerpt

3.A Mystery...


*Third Excerpt



*Fourth Excerpt



*Fifth Excerpt

(6. and 7. included on the same excerpt soundfile)
6.Soliliquy (with Greek chorus)
7.Theater of the Absurd




*Sixth Excerpt

(9. and 10. included on the same excerpt soundfile)
10.Curtain Call





Mise-en-scène is the way a director places people and objects on a stage to create verisimilitude in the in the theatre. In theatre and film, the stage setting, including all props, lighting effects, costumes, etc., but excluding the narrative proper. Mise-en-scene is especially critical in film studies, where it implies the orchestration of all the seen elements, with special reference to composition, visual weights, the function of the frame, and staged movements within the scene.

My work starts with the Curtain Rising as represented in rising figures, then the scene is set in The Setting... through hazy tremolos in the strings and winds, creating a growing sense of anticipation which leads back to the curtain, as it finishes its ascent. A Mystery asks a low murky question in the piano. The instruments come in together with their own, sometimes argumentative, take on the answer, but in a way that never clarifies the mystery. The next section starts with the violin trying to play a romantic solo but not quite finding it, deciding instead to play a bit of Estrellita. The other instruments do their best to cover up what they consider this tired “old chestnut”, and in the end the violinist is left playing the poignant material she started with.

Now, the curtain rises again to expose a new scene, this time moving straight into Melodrama, which quotes a very familiar piece of music. The instruments fight over who will get the baritone solo and the argument becomes more and more aggressive, until finally, the percussion intercedes with violent “gun shots”, seemingly killing the entire ensemble and they fall to their “deaths”. The Soliloquy once again features the violin, this time in a mournful and lilting melody (mourning the loss of the ensemble in the last “Act”); in the background the ensemble plays the “Greek Chorus”.  In Theater of The Absurd, the music from A Mystery returns but is “turned on its head” literally, in various inversional forms musically and instrumentally (i.e. the alto flute is now in piccolo, the bass clarinet in Eb clarinet). Between each group statement, the percussion mocks what he has heard, with various absurdist “extended instruments”. There is a quick scene change, heralded by the rising curtain music, which leads to a Tragicomedy, in which the music tries to take itself very seriously. This leads to the Finale, where the material is finally set in a more serious and “stately manner”, as most of the shenanigans of the preceding music are nearly laid to rest (all except for the over florid piano runs). The Curtain Call brings the music from Curtain Rising back, but showcases the ensemble in a short and virtuosic bow.