Deems Taylor had great love for the musical structures of Western music, and his Three Century Suite is a salute to the dance suites developed in the 16th century, which usually consisted of four movements of rhythmic variety.


Three Century Suite is a variant of the Baroque dance suite. It has five sections instead of the usual four, adding an introductory prelude (the Pavan). In addition, its final section is a waltz – an unusual and unique variation of the form. The five sections are: Pavan, Saraband, Jig, Rigadoon, and  Bartholomew Fair. Bartholomew Fair is the Waltz, with a double time recapitulation that is almost reminiscent of a Can-Can.



This is the prelude, and as such has no established formal structure. It is rondo-esque, in that the main theme repeats but goes off in a different direction each time it repeats — whether it be melodically, harmonically, instrumentally, or all three — creating a musically integrated movement with a complex and absorbing development. It is a slow, stately movement, which starts in G major, modulates to E flat, then to A flat, and finally back to G in an imposing climactic ending.



This has an ABA form, with a haunting mysterious theme in D minor, first stated by the oboe. The A section is in triple meter, while the B section is in 4/4, which breaks the traditional form. It is also in D major, further contributing to the contrast with the A section. The original theme is restated by the strings, winds, and horns, before quietly ending in the major.


Then there is a twenty second transition in a rapid 12/8, starting softly, quickly building to a triple forte. This “gathering storm” sets the stage for the jig.



A faster, light-hearted, swirling 6/8 with lovely interweaving melodies. Here, as so often, the composer has different parts playing fully developed melodies that just work together. This is not counterpoint exactly, I would call it counter-melody, and it is one of Taylor’s trademarks.



Again, the theme is first stated by the oboe, harkening us back to the opening of the Saraband. But we are in 2/4 now, not 3/4, and the feeling is quite different. Again, the key changes and the complex orchestration creates a forward momentum that sustains our interest and heightens our expectations, until suddenly, we burst into the joyous last segment.



The transition from single winds playing piano to a tutti double forte unmistakably announces that we have turned the corner into Bartholomew Fair. This is nothing less than a celebration, a musical exclamation of sheer joy. Appropriately, it is a waltz, one of the most romantic and exhilarating dances there is. The music develops into a lovely double melody by strings and winds, and then returns back to the main joyous theme. Then a slight transition; a slight fanfare — and just when you thought it couldn’t get more exuberant, it leaps into a final fifty second recapitulation of the waltz theme in double time, modulating from E flat major to C major. This builds to a climax, which resolves into a short conclusion, which ends the piece.





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