Siege of Burgundy – Revision Notes

George Auric’s Siege of Burgundy is one of the five set works in the Applied Music category. It was written for the 1948 film Passport to Pimlico which is one of a number of films known as the Ealing comedies. At this point in the narrative, the London district of Pimlico has become part of Burgundy, prompting intense political negotiations. These are shown as a montage, and the different sections of this piece illustrate the various different visuals.

Structure

The piece is generally considered to be through-composed, but the music is naturally episodic, as the short sections of thematic material correspond to the visuals on screen, meaning that the mood changes rapidly, with some lighthearted and some more ominous sections. Some of the melodic material is repeated at certain points.

Texture

The texture of the piece changes rapidly with the different visuals. The opening four bars combine brass fanfares with trills in the strings and woodwind, while the horns play a descending pattern in thirds. This is immediately followed by another four bar section involving parallel fifths, sixths and octaves, with contrary motion scales in bar 8.

In bars 9-10, the texture is polyphonic, combining melodic lines in the flute, piccolo and clarinet, along with an ostinato in the cello. A number of homophonic textures are also used – Auric sometimes excludes certain instruments from a passage to create higher (bar 11) or lower (bar 15) pitched textures. Bass dominated homophony is used in bars 21-22, and melody dominated homophony at bar 55 (between the two, the texture is sometimes polyphonic, with antiphony appearing at bar 27). A homophonic tutti is used at the very end of the piece.

Harmony and Tonality

The tonality of the piece is mostly major, but this also has frequent rapid changes. Some of the keys used have a tertiary relationship to each other – for example, the piece starts in E major, then modulates to G major in bar 9 and B minor in bar 15 (briefly going into B major at bar 16). Other keys used include C major (bars 33 – with some chromaticism –  and 55) and Eb major (bar 39), with returns to E major at bars 21 and 42.

Auric often uses added note harmony in chords, such as the C appoggiatura in the G major chord in bar 9, and the added 7ths and 9ths in bars 7 and 49 respectively. The final perfect cadence (of which there are several, for example in bar 8) contains a dissonant F#. There is also whole tone harmony at bar 27, an inverted tonic pedal in bars 13-14, and several parallels (mentioned under Texture).

Instrumentation

Auric uses a symphony orchestra with an extended percussion section (a celeste and a glockenspiel are used to double some of the melodies, while the timpani and crash cymbals are used at climactic points). The wind, strings and brass each play the main melody at different points in the piece, and there is some use of different string techniques, such as the pizzicato in bar 11.

Rhythm and Metre

The metre of the piece is almost entirely 4/4, with a single bar of 3/4 at bar 51. Most of the rhythms are relatively simple (this is a common feature of film music, as anything too complex is likely to distract the audience from the narrative of the film), with points of interest including the dotted rhythms in the opening, which give a fanfare-like feel, rhythmic diminution in bar 3, which creates a sense of pace, and triplets in bar 48.

Melody

As with the other features of the piece, the melody changes rapidly, with a number of short motifs which correspond to different sections of the visual montage. Some of these melodies are diatonic, while others contain some chromaticism. There are several sequences (such as the descending sequence in bar 7) and scalic passages (including the first bar). Passing and auxiliary notes are also seen (for example in bar 5), and the final melody (from bar 55) contains some ornamentation.

Unfortunately, the actual scene from the film isn’t available online, but this YouTube user has re-created it using Lego figures

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