ABRACADABRA for concert band

Abracadabra for concert band by Frank Ticheli. Hear streaming audio on this page. Suitable for middle school through college bands, and community bands, 4 1/2 minutes duration, Grade 3.

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Performance by USC Thornton Wind Ensemble, reading session conducted by the composer. Subsequent to the recording, m. 154 was re-scored (from a tone cluster in flutes) to a whole tone cluster in flutes. Eerie, isn't it?

Scroll down for program notes & instrumentation


Abracadabra was composed in the summer of 2004, and was orchestrated the following November during a residency at the MacDowell Colony. The piece is dedicated to my son, and is at once playful and serious, innocent and mischievous. A sense of mystery pervades as the dark key of G minor is balanced by sudden shifts to bright and sunny major keys. Throughout the composition I was thinking about magic, not in an evil or frightening sense, but as a source of fun and fantasy. My wonderfully playful, sometimes mischievous young son was always in the back of mind, as were images of Halloween with its costumes and jack-o'-lanterns. As the piece nears its conclusion, the music rushes toward what seems to be an explosive finish. But the woodwinds interrupt, fanning out to a questioning whole-tone cluster. They are answered by a puff of sound, a final disappearing act.

  In strictly musical terms, the piece is as clear an example of musical economy as anything I've composed. Almost everything is derived from the opening bars of the main theme. Indeed, virtually every note can be traced to the main melody or its accompaniment. Because of this heightened sense of unity, I had to choose other ways to achieve musical variety. The most important solution was through the sudden and frequent shifts of mood, mode, and tonality.



Introduction & Theme 1: mm. 1-13 G minor (Aeolian)
Episode: mm. 14-16 Eb Major
Modulating link: mm. 17-20 moving
Theme 2 (+ Episode 1): mm. 21-40 Bb Major (C Major) Bb Major


Theme 1: mm. 41-48 G minor (Aeolian)
Minor 3rd motive: mm. 49-56
Rising 3-note patterns: mm. 57-65
Episode (Theme 1): mm. 66-74 F Major Db Major Eb Major
Modulating link: mm. 75-78 moving
Theme 2: mm. 79-97 Bb Major (C Major) Bb Major
Transition to Recap: mm. 98-105 D minor Bb Major G Major Eb Major


Theme 1: mm. 106-113 G minor (Aeolian)
Minor 3rd motive: mm. 114-117
Theme 2: mm. 118-135
Coda: mm. 136-156



Introduction and Theme 1 (mm. 1-16)

A six-bar introduction establishes a mood that is at once playful, mischievous, dark, and mysterious. The flute notes should sound like bell tones, but without being forced.

Observe carefully the staccato markings, and be sure that the vibraslap is allowed to ring for three beats, as notated.

The main theme enters in the clarinets at measure 7, with clarinet 1 on the actual tune, forming horned fifths with clarinet 2. The other players should remain underneath this. (One exception to this rule occurs at measure 10, where the lower saxophones, horns and euphonium answer the melody strongly.)

Episode and Modulating Link (mm. 14-20)

The episode is signaled by an abrupt tonal shift from G minor (Aeolian) to Eb Major. Its foreground material (contained in all parts marked mezzo piano), is derived from the main theme, but now lengthened, made more lyrical, and transformed from a minor to a major key (e.g., see horned-fifth relationship between Flute 1 and Oboe 1, mm. 14-16). The episode material, always sounding in a major key and often interrupting some other idea, provides a calmer, more lyrical contrast to the darker minor-key material.

A brief modulating link occurs in measures 17-20, based on a three-note fragment derived from the main theme, but made more contrapuntal. (e.g., Note the tight imitative relationship formed between the trumpets and flutes/oboe.) The link connects the music smoothly to the relative major key, ushering in the second theme.

Theme 2 (mm. 21-40)

In contrast to the main theme, the second theme is bright and jovial. However, like everything else thus far, the second theme is derived directly from the main theme. Even the second theme's accompaniment comes directly from the main theme's accompaniment (e.g., compare the bassoons, horns, and trombone in measures 21-23, with the rhythm in clarinet 3 at measure 7, and its scalewise descent in measure 8). By this point, one can easily see that economy is a hallmark of the piece.

Virtually everything comes from the main theme!

At measure 25, the episode material, marked subito piano, quietly interrupts the second theme. But the theme reasserts itself, overtaking the episode and moving to a powerful climax and full final cadence.


Theme 1 and Development of Minor 3rd Motive (mm. 41-56)

The cadence to Bb Major is followed by an immediate return to G minor and an exact repeat of the main theme. In fact, one could easily argue that the development section does not really begin until measure 49, where a two-note motive, first appearing on the downbeat of measure 10, is now developed. The first trumpets lead the way in a kind of call-and-response game with the low brass. Soon the game involves three groups: woodwinds brass, and solo timpanist. The timpanist must be aggressive here, taking seriously the fff indication with accents.

Rising Three-note Patterns (mm. 57-65)

With the forte-piano attack at measure 57, the music suddenly turns quiet and more sustained in quality. Groups of rising quarter-notes are answered by little reminders of previous music. A mysterious, somewhat bluesy moment occurs in the flutes and clarinets at measures 59 and 60, where horned-fifths, now separated by an octave, move into parallel tenths, and then finally in contrary motion.

The phrase repeats at measure 63, and modulates to a new key (m. 66, F Major), marking the return of the episode material.

Episode, Development of Theme 1, and Modulating Link (mm. 66-74)

Material from the episode and main theme are combined, developed, and put through a series of modulations, from F Major to Db Major, and finally to Eb Major. This leads to a varied repeat of the modulating link. When comparing this to its first appearance, one can see that the roles between the trumpets and flutes/oboes have been switched, with the trumpets leading the way.

Theme 2 (mm. 79-97)

The second theme returns, at first as an exact repeat of the exposition's second theme. But then the switching game continues: the first ending here contains the music that had originally occurred in the second ending of the exposition, and vice versa; i.e., compare the first and second endings here with those of mm. 24-25. The theme moves to a climax as before, but this time it is followed by a descent and a slackening of tempo. At measure 95, the main theme is foreshadowed in the clarinets as the energy continues to recede.

Transition to Recapitulation (mm. 98-105)

The tonality shifts from key to key, searching for resolution. Hints of the main theme are passed from the flutes and oboes, to the horns, to the clarinets and alto saxophones. The breath marks in measures 97 and 103 indicate a slight lifting from the note, and a slight phrase separation. They should not be interpreted as a dramatic halt in tempo.


Main Theme and Return of Minor 3rd Motive (mm. 106-113)

The recapitulation serves both as a return of the exposition and a continuation of the development section. Sections are shortened or deleted entirely, and in some cases new material is still being introduced. For example, the main theme's return is now accompanied by a sultry chromatic line introduced by the flutes.

Minor 3rd Motive (mm. 114-117)

The episode and modulating link that followed the main theme in the exposition are deleted now, replaced by a brief reminder of the development section's minor third motive.

Theme 2 (mm. 118-135)

Theme 2 returns, but now darkened by the home key of G minor. As before, it moves to a climax, but it too is darkened in its new tonal context.

Coda (mm. 136-156)

The coda, beginning with a forte-piano cadence in G minor, begins quietly and builds slowly. Ideas from throughout the piece are recalled as layer upon layer is added. The tonality remains firmly grounded, the tempo gradually increases, the energy intensifies and rushes towards what seems to be an explosive finish. But the tempo suddenly slackens and the woodwinds interrupt, fanning out to a questioning whole-tone cluster. The fast tempo suddenly returns, and the question is answered by a puff of sound. The music vanishes without a trace.



Frank Ticheli
Genoa, Italy


1 Full Score
2 Piccolo
4 Flute 1
4 Flute 2
2 Oboe 1
2 Oboe 2
4 Bb Clarinet 1
4 Bb Clarinet 2
4 Bb Clarinet 3
3 Bb Bass Clarinet
1 Eb Contrabass Clarinet
2 Bassoon 1
2 Bassoon 2
3 Eb Alto Saxophone 1
3 Eb Alto Saxophone 2
2 Bb Tenor Saxophone
2 Eb Baritone Saxophone
3 Bb Trumpet 1
3 Bb Trumpet 2
3 Bb Trumpet 3
3 F Horn 1
3 F Horn 2
3 Trombone 1
3 Trombone 2
3 Euphonium B.C.
2 Euphonium T.C.
5 Tuba
2 Timpani
2 Xylophone
3 Percussion 1 (Tri., Temple Blocks, Lge. Slapstick, Susp. Cymb.)
3 Percussion 2 (Vibraslap, Small Tom, Snare Drum, Bass Drum)

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