This list covers the pieces with marimba that I’ve listened to, including the unaccompanied and accompanied solo compositions, as well as some ensemble/chamber and orchestral works. Regarding the unaccompanied solo pieces, unlike xylophone, marimba has been quite explored by the composers. As I wrote in the post about the xylophone pieces, many even prefer the accompanied solo xylophone works to be played on marimba instead. On the other hand, regarding the chamber and orchestral repertoire, not only is marimba a newer instrument, which joined the orchestra later, but it has a limited projection when compared to the xylophone. This is why the ensemble/orchestral repertoire is much smaller for marimba.
Unaccompanied Solo Marimba
From its introduction to the western classical music around 1910, it wasn’t until 1940 that the original compositions for marimba appeared, with the solo works prior to that being mostly transcriptions. While I will not focus on the transcriptions, but the original works, it is interesting to mention Vida Chenowith. She was among the first players to play polyphonically on the instrument, being able to perform chorales by Bach, also setting some guidance for the composers in how to write for marimba. (Chenoweth, 1964)
Clair Omar Musser – Prelude Op. 11 No. 3 and No. 7; Etude Op. 6 No. 2, No. 8, No 9 and No. 10 (probably between 1940 and 1960)
I can’t find the exact composition date. Some sources list the some of the pieces above with piano accompaniment, but the versions I’ve listened to were all unaccompanied. Musser is perhaps one of the first to compose original marimba works. Bridge (n.d.: 5) writes in his paper about marimba repertoire how Musser’s compositions are considered pedagogical, rather than serious works. However, I really enjoyed these pieces and I feel they were an interesting introduction the four-mallet technique of marimba. In fact, Musser himself developed a unique grip, which is now called after him – the Musser grip. (Peters, 1995: 114) I also found the scores to look at, and the harmony is mostly quite standard, much like the form, often the ternary aba form. Nevertheless, there were some quite exciting melodic phrases that I loved, especially in the Etude Op. 6 No. 8 – my favorite, which in a different style from his other pieces I listed. It is also nicknamed whole tone, which upon listening, you can guess why.
Alfred Fissinger – Suite for Marimba (1950)
This is a four-movement piece commissioned by Vida Chenoweth, whom I’ve mentioned above, which allowed for polyphonic writing. It is also a first multi-movement piece for solo marimba. The first and third movement are written in a chorale style – rolled chords in four voices, which was generally an established style in marimba compositions, though the novelty here is the added polyphony. The second movement is a short scherzo in ternary form, while the fourth movement was especially interesting in terms of dynamics, beginning in ppp and reaching the fff. I liked the use of both the traditional and modern harmonies. What I found the most enjoyable is Fissinger’s own comments regarding the movements, which I found here with some more technical information, showing how each was inspired by the certain things he experienced as an infantryman in Europe during World War II:
I. Mist – “To some people, the quiet of an early morning mist is a dreary thing, but perhaps others will think of it as I do: a period of complete solitude which affords one many peaceful moments of contemplation. An artist friend of mine, killed in the last war, did his finest creative work during such moments as these. With him it was almost a religion. In the first movement, I have tried to capture the serenity, the happiness he felt, and the hope he had for others as well as for himself.”
II. Rendezvous in Black – “Rendezvous in Black depicts a motorized patrol at midnight through the heavily wooded mountains of Luxembourg. It was pitch black and bitter cold, but the men on the patrol were in good spirits. As the patrol progressed, however, the seriousness and the danger were realized. The rather fast passage work at the end of the movement indicates the speed in which the patrol returned to its base upon completing the mission.”
III. Esch s/ Sure – “Located in the small country of Luxembourg and completely surrounded by mountains, is the village of Esch on the Sure River. As you approach this village from a road high in the mountains, it appears as a miniature of tiny houses and inns set against a background of snow-capped mountains and time-aged ruins. So completely did this picture of loveliness stir me, that in the third movement of this suite, I have attempted to express in music the peace and tranquility I felt at this time.”
IV. Bastone Convoy – “Shortly before Christmas, during the winter of 1944, the German army made what proved to be its last major counterattack of the war. All troops held in reserve were ordered up to the front to stem the tide of the onrushing enemy. As my division was at that moment resting in Metz, France, after a hard campaign, we were alerted to move. In the fourth movement, I have to recapture the subsequent activities resulting from this emergency.”
Accompanied Solo Marimba
Bridge, R. (n.d.) The Evolution of Solo Marimba Repertoire. [Online paper] At: http://myhome.sunyocc.edu/~bridger/papers/Marimba%20Paper.pdf (Accessed on )
Chenoweth, V. (1964) ‘The Marimba: a Challenge to Composers (Part 1)’ In: The Ludwig Drummer 4 (1)
Chenoweth, V. (1964) ‘The Marimba: a Challenge to Composers (Part 2)’ In: The Ludwig Drummer 4 (2)
Peters, M. (1995) Fundamental Method for Mallets, Book 1. Van Nuys, Calif.: Alfred Pub.