OK...the subtitle of The Dog's Master ('O Patrone d'o Cane) isn't much help in describing the work. "Ostinazione, sberleffo et trance in un divertimento per orchestra, pianoforte, zampogna, e voce," it reads: "Obstinacy, sneering, and trance in a divertimento for orchestra, piano, bagpipes, and voice." Maybe it's best to start at the beginning. The work opens with a spoken prologue, beginning with the words (in Italian, but only the English translation is given in the booklet), "It was a beautiful spring day/A lot of sky, a lot of sea, a lot of sun/When, all of a sudden,...'ppó!'/The Dog's Master was born!...But the funny thing was that when he was born/The dog had not yet been born." Several other movements contain spoken text; the one entitled "The Gump and the Flight of the Soul to the Moon" (track 7) actually has a text headed "Dog's Master's Self Celebration." Most of the work, however, is instrumental, although from time to time a voice says "'o patrone d'o cane" (the dog's master -- the dialect is Neapolitan) , and at one point groups of voices chant those words at different speeds. The majority of the instrumental passages are made up of a repeating quick 12/8 rhythm, often outlining a diminished fifth; the orchestral "divertimento," the composer indicates, "plays with a core of 11 bars thus highlighting its own 'stubbornness,' bringing it to places that go through continuous transformations." The figure sounds like music for a fast-moving cinematic scene, and composer Carlo Siliotto is, in fact, a well-known Italian writer of film scores. When this figure begins to get a little ponderous, it is interrupted either by the zampogna (a type of Italian bagpipe) or by a kazoo. "The Zampogna," says Siliotto, "gives an earthier touch to the sound of the orchestra whereas the piano becomes the synthesis and the engine." The kazoo is just plain hilarious. At several points the music turns darker, notably in the sixth movement, "The War: Sorrow, Nostalgia, Madness." The episodic movements are again reminiscent of a film score, but the foreground events of the music diverge completely from that idiom.
What does it all mean? Certainly alternative interpretations are possible. The Dog's Master is perhaps a symbol for the modern Western human, who controls nature and is always obstinately on the move. "We are kings of a crown," the speaker says in the penultimate "We Are Kings" movement. "Kings of passion/Fathers of our own destiny." At several points a comeuppance for the Dog's Master is suggested: "And everything will glow/As a dark night falls/As a true night comes." Written in Italy, recorded in Bulgaria, and distributed from California on La-La Land Records, no less, THE DOG'S MASTER offers a delightful way to stretch the mind (or the leash). Note to radio presenters -- the timings given on the back cover are way off. The second movement, "Birth and First Whimpers," is listed at 3:58 but is over 10 minutes long, and several of the other timings are wildly inaccurate.