But first, a little recap. I wrote about the piece in a blog post from 11/25/2014 (here, if you'd like to read it) and it turns out I was completely off in my assumptions about it! The piece is not about the book by Chaucer at all, but, as Wharton writes:
But I did find out recently that the genesis of the Canterbury Tales is not the Chaucer stories, but the big news in New York in 1936 that the King of England was abdicating to marry a woman from Baltimore, Wallis Simpson. (explains the English national anthem and the wedding march in the the piece). “The Duke Takes a Train” refers to the Duke of Windsor, and (I am guessing here) “The Bishop Checkmates” refers to an English bishop who was the one who broke the news to the British public about the affair.
Oops. Reminds me of the final exam I took for a college English class in which I wrote a lengthy essay on the wrong chapter of James Joyce's Ulysses.
So now, looking at the piece from this perspective, it all makes sooooo much more sense.
In the first movement, "To a Lady From Baltimore," the suave introduction does evoke Wallis Simpson and the elegant excess of which she was fond. God Save the King, as indeed Edward needed to be, appears around 1:27-1:45, preceded by a heraldic fanfare. That's followed by a minor version of Here Comes the Bride (1:57-2:20), which tapers out to nothing and the introduction material returns.
From my 2014 recital, which was a return to playing after eight years on the sidelines (I'm not responsible for the piano's intonation, but I apologize for my slips):
Movement 2, "The Bishop Checkmates," features a stealthy, slippery theme which morphs into everyone's first harmonic minor tune, the "Snake Charmer." Seems like Call thought the announcement by a clergy member was a little underhanded. According to an article in The Guardian, "What really sparked public awareness of Edward VIII's relationship with Simpson, and the abdication crisis that might follow, came thanks to the words of Bishop Blunt of Bradford whose pulpit denunciation in 1936 exposed the whole crisis." The snake charmer tune arrives at 0:34-0:54.
I kept wondering if the third movement had anything to do with Billy Strayhorn's jazz standard, "Take the A Train," but Google tells me it was written in 1939, and Call published Canterbury Tales in 1937. There is certainly a lot of "train" music in the movement, but I can't find any historical reason for the stereotypical "asian" sound of the fifths throughout the movement. In any case, in "The Duke Takes A Train," Edward VIII rides off into the sunset, presumably with Wallis in tow.
While this charming suite is currently out of print, you can find a short jazz solo by Call in volume four of the anthology. It's called The Witch of Harlem, and there's a recording on the "Soundfiles" page. You can learn more about Call's life at the 2014 blog post linked above.