Zanzare Fanfare

A mortal combat for human and bug

forces: Piano, Oboe
duration: 9'00"
1983
published by: Composer

Zanzare Fanfare was extensively performed in the 1980s by Nicholas Daniel with Julius Drake, its commissioners and dedicatees, who presented it in the Wigmore Hall as part of their ‘Menagerie’ series and at the Salisbury Festival. Jeremy Polmear and Diana Ambache performed it in the Purcell Room, Southbank Centre, and it was taken up by the Canadian oboist Barbara Bolte.

 

Programme Note

Zanzare Fanfare [1983]

The airborne protagonist of this dubious musical exercise materialised through the open window of a hotel beside Lake Como in the small hours of 30th August 1982. It bit, dive-bombed and infuriated its sleep-deprived victim for several hours before succumbing finally to a rolled copy of The Musical Times. It so happened that, only weeks previously, the oboist Nicholas Daniel and his accompanist Julius Drake had commissioned a piece from me for The Menagerie, a flexible concert programme of music and readings concerned with the animal world. With the passing weeks I began to look more forgivingly upon my mosquito (zanzare in Italian), as I realised that it had provided me with exactly the required subject matter.

At the opening of Zanzare Fanfare the hapless human is discovered sleeping soundly, his snores emanating gently from the depths of the keyboard. With the arrival of his winged opponent, the snores become fitful, giving way to insecticidal swatting frenzy as battle is joined (punctuated motivically by open mockery from the oboe). The proceedings settle into an oddly balletic routine, with the mosquito suavely spinning a lyrical secondary theme punctuated by despairing thuds and splinterings that chart the fruitless progress of its thwarted pursuer. A fleeting return to the main theme launches an increasingly frenetic central section -before, over an unresolved chord held by the pedal, the pianist produces an aerosol from beside the keyboard and proceeds, with a crazed grin, to deplete the ozone in his vicinity.

At first, the subsequent reprise of the secondary theme is suitably soporific as a drowsy Keatsian numbness pervades the senses of the insect. Soon, however, the resilient insect begins to recover. The secondary theme gives way first to a fleeting echo of Eric Coates’s Dam Busters march and, secondly, to a bizarre waltz reflecting the generally demented choreography of the scene. Finally, a well-aimed swat appears to have dispatched the insect, and the pianist’s smile is wide as he savours the moment with a snippet from a well-known funeral march. To his consternation, however, the peace is short-lived. Initially almost inaudible, the insect regroups, comes back from the dead and strikes back. As with most cliffhanger films, the final, unison thud of the music leaves the outcome open to doubt and subjective interpretation – though, at the time of writing (May 2018, 33 years after the work’s first broadcast performance on BBC Radio Three), a Zanzare Fanfare II has yet to make its appearance…

© Francis Pott, 2018

Programme Note

Composers' Note

A performance of Zanzare Fanfare is accessible via SoundCloud, where it is presented by kind permission [2018] of Nicholas Daniel and Julius Drake. It was given by those two artists live in May 1985, as part of BBC Radio Three’s weekly ‘Concert Hall’ series.

Composers' Note

Reviews

Guardian, 1984

The first of the new works and the one which established this as a fun concert [was] Francis Pott’s Zanzare Fanfare, an essay in mosquito-swatting with the pianist as swatter, always just missing the oboist as the venomous insect, buzzing, darting, waltzing in defiance. It was a marvellous vehicle not just for dashing virtuosity but for witty timing from both the oboist and the pianist. …After Mr Pott it was impossible to take seriously the buzzings and dartings in Ferneyhough’s Coloratura.

 Edward Greenfield, The Guardian, 1984

 

In Francis Pott’s encounter with an Italian mosquito the whole range of timbres and textures of the oboe was brilliantly brought into play.

Ham & High, London, 1984

Reviews