British composer Jonathan Dove (b. 1959) is best known for his more than 20 operas, including Flight and The Adventures of Pinocchio, which have been produced around the world. He also has a large repertoire of choral and solo vocal works, as well as numerous celebrated instrumental works.
Dove provides his own program notes for Figures in the Garden (1991) in its score (links added):
For their 1991 Mozart bicentenary celebrations, Glyndebourne commissioned five composers to write wind serenades. Each serenade was to be musically connected in some way with one of Mozart’s operas, and to be played outdoors before the performance of the opera. I was asked to compose a piece to precede The Marriage of Figaro.
Although Mozart’s comic masterpiece needs no introduction, musically or otherwise, I was attracted by the aptness of playing a serenade in the garden before performances of an opera whose last act is set in a garden, and which itself includes a number of serenades: Voi che sapete, Deh vieni, non tardar, and Susanna and the countess’ letter-writing duet Canzonetta su sull ‘aria’.
I had the idea that with all the performances of The Marriage of Figaro that had taken place at Glyndebourne, sounds from the opera had in some way impregnated the garden: snatches of recitative, musical figures, instrumental colours. I didn’t want to overwork Mozart’s tunes – it would be disastrous if the audience were tired of them before the opera had even begun – but each movement of Figures in the Garden is developed from a musical idea in the opera. Here and there an alternative scenario emerges: Susanna sings her aria in the rain (because it’s an English garden), and Figaro and Susanna finally enjoy a moment of shared tranquillity that is denied them in the opera.
Dove’s musical language in this piece is starkly different from Mozart’s, with repeated figures and harmonies that seem grounded in minimalism forming its foundation. Each movement is a unique miniature. The first, “Dancing in the Dark,” is a lively dance, punctuated by pauses, that ends with a chunk of recitative:
“Susanna in the Rain” creates a dreamy rain soundscape with cascading woodwinds accompanying Susanna’s aria “Deh vieni, non tardar” in the French horn.
The third movement, “A Conversation,” begins with tense, uneven rhythms and builds in intensity, with the conversation becoming noisier and more chaotic as the movement progresses.
The fourth movement is “Barbarina Alone.”
“The Countess Interrupts a Quarrel” sounds exactly like its name, opening with tense rhythms that eventually give way to a reharmonization of a famous moment from the opera’s finale.
The diminutive sixth movement, “Voices in the Garden,” opens and closes with recitative. The middle section frames a famous melody with rising arpeggios.
The final movement is “Nocturne: Figaro and Susanna.” While it contains plenty of activity, it retains a serenity that allows the piece to end in repose.
Now, some of the source material. Here is “Deh vieni, non tardar,” which is the melody in movement II and forms the basis of the middle of movement V.
This second part of the finale from act IV includes the chorale section that Dove harmonizes so elegantly in movement V:
Read more about Figure in the Garden at Jonathan Dove’s website, Faber Music, and Brandon Hill Chamber Orchestra. Also, listen this clip of BBC: Discovering Music that examines the piece. Finally, it bears repeating that Jonathan Dove’s website is very much worth a visit.