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Shakespeare Scenes

composer
2013

 
Whereas Psalm (the earlier ‘marker’) emanates from my Jewish background, Shakespeare Scenes illustrates my English up-bringing (my paternal grandmother was a ‘convert of convenience’ from Anglican Christianity to Judaism) and education and, indeed, my profound love of, and respect for, the English empirical tradition (in the arts, philosophy, and science) and, in particular, its visionary qualities as manifest in, for example, late Shakespeare, the Metaphysical poets of the 17th century, Bunyan, Blake, late Turner, Stanley Spencer, Vaughan Williams, Tippett and the finest (vocal) music of my teacher, Elisabeth Lutyens. When Simon Desbruslais suggested that I write him a companion piece to Psalm, knowing that he would premiere it in Stratford and being inspired by the extraordinary range, technical brilliance and quality of his playing, it was at once clear that I would pay tribute simultaneously to both Simon and Shakespeare, and that the work would be a counter-pole to the earlier one. In place of Psalm’s continuous, evolving structure, Shakespeare Scenes consists of five character pieces, unified by means of the musical letters of Shakespeare’s name acting as pitch centres across the cycle. During the period between Psalm and Shakespeare Scenes, my musical grammar/syntax has (consciously) become more intentionally integrated regarding modal/tonal root movement than previously and each of the five pieces in the later work is a closed ‘cadential’ structure, with one exception. The first and last pieces act as prelude and postlude, the first, The Magic Wood, referring to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in particular the world of the fairies and Puck’s line: ‘I’ll put a girdle round the earth in forty minutes’. The second piece, Falstaff, is a miniature tone poem in which we hear Falstaff awakening from a drunken stupor (the musical commentary in the strings being ironic in its pseudo-academic, fugal manner), his defeat/humiliation at Gad’s Hill and his death. The Storm on the Heath is a depiction of the physical and psychological states of King Lear and his Fool in the driving rain and storm, the trumpet representing themad monarch, the solo violin his increasingly deranged jester; at the close, the conflict unresolved tonally, the final gesture being at odds with this. Masque makes general reference to the Jacobean tradition, masques occurring in several Shakespeare plays eg: (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Tempest); the solo trumpet announces the masque, continuing with a Pavane and Galliard, accompanied in lutelike fashion by pizzicato cellos; there are no quotations of earlier music, as I wanted the challenge of writing stylistically and deriving all material from this. The remainder of the string ensemble represents those participating in the masque and the audience, playing lively canonic/imitative music reminiscent of that peculiarly English tradition of ‘dislocated’ dance rhythms. With the closing piece, The Magic Island (counter-pole to The Magic Wood) we are on Prospero’s island in The Tempest; Prospero's spell is broken and Caliban (solo viola) regains his freedom. The music is a Chaconne, with a modulating pitch centre for each repetition of the Ground, the trumpet (Prospero) and the ensemble (the world, symbolically) are reconciled in the E major resolution.

from notes by Robert Saxton © 2014

Recordings

Psalm - Contemporary British Trumpet Concertos
Studio Master: SIGCD403Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available

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