by Colin Matthews

Small Orchestra
Instrumentation - 2100 - perc(1): vib/glsp/t.bells/2 tam-t - cel - harp - strings (ideally
Commissioned by the City of London Sinfonia with funds made available by the Arts Council of Great Britain
First Performance
8.8.90, BBC Promenade Concert, Royal Albert Hall: City of London Sinfonia/Richard Hickox

Study score (fp) 0-571-55715-5 on sale, full score and parts for hire

Programme Notes
Colin Matthews CHIAROSCURO Chiaroscuro, the play of light and shade in painting or drawing, isn’t a term that can be applied with a precise meaning to a piece of music. And although, as I said in the Proms prospectus, Monet’s late paintings of waterlilies were a source for this work – more specifically the magnificent twenty-foot long example in the New York Museum of Modern Art, in front of which I spent most of a morning several years ago – I would not presume to attempt to translate a great painting into music. Nor are the processes in late Monet and the technical term ‘chiaroscuro’ by any means the same thing. So perhaps all that can be said is that these sources became abstract concepts which prompted the music, and which – as often happens – retreated into the background as the music progressed and found its own logic. What consequently became the foreground was a balance between harmony, melodic line and orchestral colour and texture – each of them at different times becoming the most important element during the course of the piece. Not exactly radical concepts! – and the piece represents for me something of a temporary relaxation from the more linear and perhaps aggressive music I’ve been writing over the past few years (a relaxation which, incidentally, was much harder to achieve than I expected, and so something of a contradiction). With all that subjective baggage out of the way, the structure can be described as tripartite, though in a single movement, and lasting some sixteen minutes. The first part sets out the harmonic colouristic framework out of which emerges a very long melodic line, in which solo trumpet is the most prominent voice over a restrained but kaleidoscopic background. The second part is scherzo-like, with muted, whirling textures, and the melody fragmented. The third part, which lasts almost as long as the other two put together, alternates slow, dense chordal textures with more dramatic episodes: the two become enmeshed before the end, where the music dissolves in a wash of colour. Chiaroscuro is gratefully dedicated to Richard Hickox and the City of London Sinfonia, who commissioned the work with funds made available by the Arts Council of Great Britain. Colin Matthews

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'Chiaroscuro' reviews

‘… originally inspired by the concept of light and shade in painting and here translated into musical terms as a study of shifting densities of texture and dynamics, combinations of different metres, and blends of instrumental timbre, tautly worked into a piece of fascinatingly changing colours.’ The Daily Telegraph (Geoffrey Norris), 10 August 1990 Read more

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