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"Caribbean Night"

Title Caribbean Night
ComposerF.G.J. Absil
Instrumen.Small Symphony Orchestra
Date4 June 2000
StyleSymphonic - Latin (Calypso, Afro-Cuban)
KeyC - Various modes
Meter4/4 - 6/8
Tempo62 - 176 - 192 BPM


A musical score excerpt
  • Flute 1-2, Oboe 1-2, Clarinet in Bb 1-2, Bassoon 1-2;
  • Alto Saxophone, Tenor Saxophone;
  • Horns in F 1-2, Trumpet in Bb, Trombone;
  • Percussion (Claves, Congas, Cowbell, Maracas or Shaker, Triangle);
  • Strings (Vi1, Vi2, Va, Vc, DB).


Caribbean Night; A tropical short story for small orchestra is a symphonic poem, telling a story. Here is the story: picture yourself a tropical summer evening, the location is a hotel in the Caribbean. A foursome somewhat suspicious locals (2 horns, 2 bassoons) shows up in the hotel lobby [A] to pick up two rather naive tourists (2 clarinets) for an interesting evening out. Together, they go for a nightly stroll [B]. Soon they arrive at their first party, where people dance a calypso (flute, muted trumpet) [C]. It turns out soon that our friends are not really welcome here [E], and they are being pushed off the scene. There is noticeable disappointment and agression in the air[F]. However, this does not discourage our tourist friends; there must be other things going on around here [G]? The local guides try to flog some mind-blowing merchandise, before moving on [H]. By midnight they arrive at a mystic voodoo company, dancing the extatic afro-cuban nañigo [I]. Encouraged by their hosts our tourists join the dancers [K] in their performance, that is leading to a climax [L]. With no concern or respect for local rites the tourists impose themselves, taking the lead, unaware of the fact that the ceremony actually has died down [N]. Slowly they realise the mistake and in the early morning hours return to the hotel [O]. Exhausted, emotionally somewhat enriched, financially a lot lighter, they fall asleep [P].

The melodic material is derived from the title, which yields the main theme: C-A-B-B-E-A-G. The main theme is used in various disguises: in the woodwinds in the introduction, in sections [F] and [O], in the bass in the calypso [C], in the pizzicato strings [G, P], in the double bass part during the nightly stroll [H]. The first two notes from the main theme C-A form the interval of a falling third; this is characteristic for both latin themes [C, I].

The harmonic material is either tonal, as in the latin sections where extended jazz chords are being used, or atonal. The latter we find in the nightly stroll sections, with bitonal harmonic structures; the lower string voices border on both C-major and A-minor, while in the upper strings we find Eb-major and C-minor. This is done in order to create a mysterious nightly mood. Also, there are fully atonal chord structures (based on pitch sets).

As for rhythm and timing: play the symphonic sections in long rubato phrases with sufficient tension and nightly atmosphere. As a contrast, play the latin sections relaxed and exuberantly with strong accents and appropriate articulation (feel free to modify and alter the rhythmic patterns in the percussion). Remember that the nañigo rhythm asks for a subdivision of 12/8 into (3+3)+(2+2+2) 8th notes.