From a Symphony Programme
The Roller Coaster Suite, Op. 23
(Born at West Hackensack June 1, 1898, living at West Hackensack)
PUMPKIN-EATER did not depend on commentators to explain the meaning of his Roller Coaster Suite. He printed his own programme on the score: —
Night — The Ascent — The Wild Surmise — Lost in the Clouds — Moments of Danger — The Lost Hat — The Descent — Vision — Young Love — The Eternal Question — Night
The work is in two movements, with a brief pause after the chief episode, ‘The Lost Hat.’
The suite, dedicated ‘in profound gratitude’ to Ruben Salzheimer (the inventor of the Roller Coaster), calls for these instruments: five flutes, two oboes, English horn and brake-lining, double bassoon, four tenor tubas, wind machine, cymbals, kettledrums, chewing gum, three soprano saxophones, for use at a considerable distance behind the scenes, and as many strings as can be conveniently seated on the stage.
This suite is frankly programme music. In the soft slow measures of the introduction, Night is indicated. A Sicilian shepherd and his consort are discovered in a roller coaster chariot. Muted strings, horns, and wood winds have (lento) a slowly ascending figure. Against a chord (B-flat minor) the ‘mounting motive’ is sounded by the brass. Philip Hale, the critic, believes that this theme is derived from the folk song, ‘All the Little Angels Ascend Up On High.’ There is development. What may be considered the main movement of the symphony follows, the ‘main’ because, beginning with the Ascent, it has to do with the adventures of the couple on high. The movement begins (‘andante furioso 4-4 time’) with a theme played by the flutes, wind machine, and the full string choir. This is practically the chief theme of the work and is made much of. The English horn, now loud, now soft, indicates the traffic below. The chariot mounts higher and higher with the music. Saxophones, at a considerable distance, introduce the Moments of Danger, which, according to one of the wise men of Paris, represent the cries of the terrified female coasters.
A tonic part is now given to the tenor tubas, mounting to a crescendo. The Sicilian’s hat has blown off! Here a noteworthy figure for brass, with a roll on cymbals with wooden drumsticks, bespeaks the wrath and lament, of the young shepherd. ‘Arpeggios, glissandos, rapidly descending scales, bells, and brake-lining picture the dashing descent of the Roller Coaster.’
Then begins that dulcet love passage so dear to concert-goers. From the composer’s notes we are to understand that the Sicilian is now being comforted by his consort for the loss of his hat. Released from the peril and buffeting of Fate, the couple languish in each other’s arms as their chariot comes gently to a stop. An appealing melody is given to the oboes over muted chewing gum.1 This love melody is sustained for sixteen measures before it gives way to a brief interlude in which other roller coasters are heard in the distance. This threatens to grow ominous, then recedes as the music of endearment returns. For an ecstatic moment passion runs riot in a fugato movement in 6-8 time; then the love song fades, the chewing gum is heard no more. At the close, use is made of the Night material with which the suite begins.
There is a short coda.
- Many will challenge this use of an instrument not usually classified in the musical world. But though repeated efforts have been made to reproduce this gentle smacking by instruments, thus far no close likeness has been achieved. Where machines fail, nature must be employed. — EDITOR↩