Full Orchestra
2(II=picc).afl(=picc) - 4331 - timp - perc(3): guiro/glsp/crot/vib/3 susp.cym/music sticks/3 tam-t/2 BD/tamb/tgl/cyms/ch.cym/12 rototom/TD/SD - cel - harp - strings (min
First Performance
7.10.88, Free Trade Hall, Manchester: BBC Philharmonic Orchestra/Edward Downes

Facsimile score 0-571-51146-5 on sale, parts for hire

Programme Notes

When I began to plan a new orchestral piece in April 1986, I conceived it as slow, meditative music with several faster episodes: one fantastic, one dreamlike, and one evoking ‘the distant fury of battle’ of Geoffrey Hill’s poem of that name and of his later sequence called Funeral Music. In his accompanying essay to Funeral Music, Hill describes the character of the sequence as ‘a florid grim music broken by grunts and shrieks’. This irresistible line came to suggest the general character of my piece, while certain other lines in Funeral Music suggested other, particular musical images, above all, Hill’s evocation of a field after battle which ‘utters its own sound Which is like nothing on earth, but is earth.’ Hill relates this battlefield specifically to the Battle of Towton, the bloodiest battle of the Wars of the Roses, at which perhaps twenty-six thousand men died. A medieval battlefield such as Towton has long since mellowed into the peaceable English landscape, the king of landscape celebrated by our greatest painters and, in music, by Elgar, Vaughan Williams and Tippett. If that pastoral tradition can no longer be sustained in its innocence, perhaps another might replace it, which reconciles out romanticised sense of a picturesque past with the brutal facts of history. This thought was much in my mind while I was composing this piece. For the long passages of meditative counterpoint that I wished to write, the Chaconne form seemed ideal. My piece has, in fact, two Chaconnes, the second appearing initially in counterpoint with the first. The two episodes which interrupt the progress of Chaconne I are both scherzo-like. The first, the fantastic episode of my original conception, is very fast, and develops the theme of Chaconne II. The second, a scherzo and trio, might be a dreamlike memory of the innocent pastoral tradition referred to. Chaconne II, which culminates in the first sustained climax of the piece, is a reworking of a song for voice and piano, a setting of Blake’s Lament of Ahania from my song-cycle The Golden Kingdom, which has already been a quarry for several other pieces, including my Third Symphony. Chaconne I is prefaced by an introduction whose twice-times-nine stylised bell sounds commemorate the beginning of the Battle of Towton at 9am on Palm Sunday, 29 March 1461. The piece as a whole, then, divides into eight continuous sections: Introduction; Chaconne I; Interlude I; Development of Chaconne I; Interlude II; Chaconne II; Interlude III (‘The Distant Fury of Battle’); Epilogue (a ghostly echo of Chaconne I).

© David Matthews

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News & Reviews

'Chaconne' reviews

'The first interlude is dreamlike, briefly suspending the progress of Chaconne I; the second recalls the innocent pastoral tradition of the past; and the final interlude is the horrific music of battle' Musical Times (Thomas Hyde), Spring 2003 Read more

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