Broken Symmetry


Full Orchestra
2(=picc) - 6431 - timp- perc(4): 3 BD(one with foot ped)/2 TD/12 tom-t/3 tam-t/3 susp.cym/2 siz.cym/2 hi-hat/tamb/log drum/guiro/ratchet/1 or 2 fishing rod reel/1 or 2 vibraslap/mcas/sleigh bells/4 c.bell/2 anvil/2 brake drum/bell tree/t.bells/2 vib/2 glsp/crot- pno - harp - strings (pref

Commissioned by the BBC

First Performance
5.3.92, Barbican Hall, London: BBC Symphony Orchestra/Oliver Knussen

Study score (fp) 0-571-55714-7 on sale, full score and parts for hire

Programme Notes
Colin Matthews Broken Symmetry Commissioned by the BBC, Broken Symmetry was composed between January 1991 and January 1992, and first performed in a BBC concert at the Barbican on 5 March. The score is headed ‘for Oliver Knussen, and for the BBC Symphony Orchestra in memory of David Johnson’ – a gifted and popular member of the orchestra’s percussion section who died suddenly during its tour of Japan in May 1990. The instrumentation of the piece includes a large and colourful percussion section, together with a substantial complement of woodwind (including the rare contrabass clarinet) and brass; harp and piano; and strings in large numbers, with a good deal of divided writing. These large forces – with the percussion playing an important role – are used to create and maintain an extraordinary sense of sustained energy and momentum. This is something which Broken Symmetry has in common with a number of Colin Matthews’s other recent works: among them Toccata Meccanica (a significant title), Suns Dance, Monody, Hidden Variables, and parts of The Great Journey. It is probably fair to say that he was encouraged to explore this vein by the example of the continuous motion of the American ‘minimalist’ composers; but at the same time his methods are very different from theirs, involving virtually no literal repetition. And, in comparison to their use of deliberately simple material, his musical language is complex and definitely (these days one might almost say defiantly) non-tonal. There are, all the same, systems at work here: an underlying twelve-note row is the basis of the cantus firmus-like lines of long notes which run through much of the piece, not only in the bass but also in the middle and upper parts; a series of three- and four-note cells derived from the row generates the patterns of faster-moving notes. But at any given point in the score, the composer says, his choice of specific notes – which cell to employ, which pitches to sustain in the harmonies, which line to treat in canon, and so on- is governed as much by instinct as by process. Matthews’s approach to metre and rhythm, for all the impression it gives of machine-finished precision, is similarly unsystematic.

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