program notes by composition > O > Othello


I. Prelude (Venice)

Alfred Reed

Othello - I. Prelude (Venice) This 1976 composition by Alfred Reed for concert band is based on an earlier work for brass and percussion ensemble that he composed for a University of Miami production of Shakespeare’s Othello.

The play, believed to have been written by Shakespeare in 1603, revolves around four central characters: Othello, a Moorish general in the Venetian army; his beloved wife, Desdemona; his loyal lieutenant, Cassio; and his trusted but ultimately unfaithful ensign, Iago. The play’s varied and enduring themes of racism, love, jealousy, betrayal, revenge and repentance keep it topical in all eras.

“Prelude” is the first of five movements, each depicting a feeling or scene. It establishes at once the tense, military atmosphere that pervades much of the play and reveals itself in Othello’s statement to the Duke of Venice in Act I, Scene II: “The tyrant custom hath made the flinty and steel couch of war my thrice-driven bed.” “Prelude” presents a powerful and exciting militaristic melody that uses the full range of the band, with driving rhythms, rapid ascending and descending lines and aggressive dynamics.

Alfred Reed (1920–2005) was an American neo-classical composer. Acquainted with symphonic and operatic repertoire from an early age, he played trumpet professionally in the Catskills while still in high school. During WWII he was a member of the 529th Army Air Corps Band where he produced over 100 compositions and arrangements. He studied at Juilliard and became a staff composer and arranger with NBC, then ABC. He later conducted the Baylor Symphony Orchestra, worked as a music editor, and taught at the University of Miami.