Conductor Leonard Slatkin described Ron Nelson (b. 1929) thusly: “Nelson is the quintessential American composer. He has the ability to move between conservative and newer styles with ease. The fact that he’s a little hard to categorize is what makes him interesting.” This quality has helped Nelson gain wide recognition as a composer. Nowhere are his works embraced more than in the band world, where he won the “triple crown” of composition prizes in 1993 for his Passacaglia (Homage on B-A-C-H). An Illinois native, Nelson received his composition training at the Eastman School of Music and went on to a distinguished career on the faculty of Brown University.
Nelson himself provides a program note for Homage to Machaut, part of his 1983 Medieval Suite:
Medieval Suite was written in homage to three great masters of the Middle Ages: Leonin (middle 12th century), Perotin (c. 1155- 1200), and Machaut (c. 1300-1377). These are neither transcriptions of their works nor attempts at emulating their respective styles. Rather, the music served as a sort of launching pad for three pieces which draw on some of the stylistic characteristics of music from that period, e.g., repetition of rhythmic patterns or modes, modules of sound, proportions that produce octaves, fourths and fifths, use of Gregorian chant, syncopation, long pedal points where a sustained tone regulates melodic progression.
Homage to Machaut evokes the stately, gently syncopated and flowing sounds of this master of choral writing. The movement consists of a statement with two repetitions, each with different instrumentation. It closes with the same chant and instrumental textures which opened the suite.
Homage to Machaut was first performed March 18, 1983 at the National Conference of the College Band Directors National Association by the Western Michigan University Symphonic Band, Richard J. Suddendorf, conductor.
An unnamed band led by an unnamed conductor in a fine version of this piece:
Now for some context, an original Machaut vocal work: