What’s so fantastic about a Fantasia anyway?

The roots of a Fantasia lie in the art of improvisation, which at face value has NOTHING to do with how I am approaching my composition at all.  However, one of the attractions for me, though, is the fact that as a form of music, it isn’t governed by strict rules; it’s almost a freestyle compositional piece that isn’t bound by any restrictions. In fact, one could say the only thing limiting a musical Fantasia is the composer’s imagination.

I had previously considered writing a symphony, but after further thought, I couldn’t see how I could capture the ten different sections of the ‘Alice in Wonderland’ story within such a formalised, four-movement structure.

Looking briefly at the history, the Fantasia dates back to the 16th century when the term referred to a musical idea rather than a musical genre and was applied to fugal compositions, which were highly imitative.

The form developed; from it’s early beginnings of being either freely imitative or highly contrapuntal, it became the strict imitation of the vocal motet during the Renaissance. Henry Purcell’s Fantasias typified the style of the period.

J.S. Bach wrote fantasias for the harpsichord and organ during the Baroque period, and Mozart and Schubert, amongst others, wrote them in the Classical period.

Encyclopaedia Britannica is quoted as saying that “Some composers have exploited the fantasia for its programmatic, or descriptive, possibilities, among them John Mundy (died 1630), who wrote a fantasia on the weather, and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, who composed his symphonic fantasy Francesca da Rimini in 1876. While appealing particularly to the romantic imagination, the fantasia served, from the beginning, also as a vehicle for instrumental elaboration of vocal music (e.g., Schubert’s “Wanderer” fantasy [1822], based on one of his own songs, and Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on “Greensleeves” [1934]).”

Famous examples of the style include:
‘Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis’ – Ralph Vaughan Williams
‘Fantasia No.3’ – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
‘Fantasia in F Minor’ – Franz Schubert

Et, voila!  Hereby the main draw for my decision; the inspiration for my composition is that of a well-known children’s story about a little girl finding herself in a fantastical land, with fanatical characters and adventures. A Fantasia will allow me the creative freedom and ‘licence’ to re-tell such a story in the freest way possible.





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