Hamburg native Walter Ingolf Marcus became Ingolf Dahl (1912-1970) upon emigrating from Switzerland to the United States in 1939. He ended up in southern California, where he joined a large community of European expatriate composers. In 1945 he began teaching at the University of Southern California. He remained there for the rest of his career. His compositions include a Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Wind Ensemble, the Sinfonietta, and many orchestral works. He is considered one of the most important American composers for the saxophone. He was also involved in the broader entertainment industry, creating arrangements for Tommy Dorsey and Victor Borge, and touring with Edgar Bergen and Gracie Fields. Work with Igor Stravinsky and his music was a strong influence on Dahl’s composition.
Dahl wrote the Sinfonietta in 1961 on a commission from the College Band Directors National Association Western and Northwestern Division. It received its premiere in 1962 from the University of Southern California Wind Ensemble under William Schaefer. Dahl said of the piece:
First of all, I wanted it to be a piece that was full of size, a long piece, a substantial piece–a piece that, without apologies for its medium, would take its place alonside symphonic works of any other kind. But in addition, I hoped to make it a “light” piece. Something in the Serenade style, serenade “tone,” and perhaps even form.
Arthur Honneger once was commissioned to write an oratorio (King David) for chorus and an ill-assorted group of wind instruments. He asked Stravinsky, “What should I do? I have never before heard of this odd combination of winds.” Stravinsky replied, “That is very simple. You must approach this task as if it had always been your greatest wish to write for these instruments, and as if a work for just such a group were the same one that you had wanted to write all of your life.” This is good advice and I tried to follow it. Only in my case it was not only before but after the work was done and the Sinfonietta was finished that it turned out to be indeed the piece that I had wanted to write all my life.
(from the CBDNA website)
The form of the piece is a broad arch spread over its three movements. Says Dahl:
The sections of the first movement correspond, in reverse order and even in some details, to the sections of the last…The middle movement itself is shaped like an arch…the center of the middle movement which the center of the whole work–a gavotte-like section, and the lightest music of the entire Sinfonietta–is the “keystone” of the arch.
Dahl further says that the “tonal idiom” of the work is based on overtones, and thus he uses more consonant intervals than he might have otherwise. The outer movements are based on a six-note set: A-flat, E-flat, C, G, D, and A. These are most obvious as the opening of the third movement, though they form the basis for a whole host of melodic and harmonic features of both that and the first. The second movement uses lighter scoring and a different pitch basis (E-flat, F, G-flat, A-flat), setting it apart from the outer movements. The entire piece is something of a concerto for band, with extended solos for clarinet, alto clarinet, saxophone, trumpet trio, bassoon, English horn, oboe, e-flat clarinet, and no shortage of demanding section solis.
Movement 1 – Introduction and Rondo:
Movement 2 – Pastoral Nocturne:
Movement 3 – Dance Variations:
Read up on Dahl at Wikipedia, this doctoral dissertation, or in his biography, The Lives of Ingolf Dahl. See more about Sinfonietta at the Wind Repertory Project, Koops Conducting, this blog, and CBDNA.