Full Orchestra
3(II=picc.III=afl+picc).2.3(II=Ebcl.III=bcl).2.cbsn - 4331 - timp - perc(3): 3 BD/3 TD/3 tam-t/3 susp.cym/siz.cym/cyms/2 wood chime/vibraslap/2 log drum/lujon/mcas/glsp/crot/5 hand bells/7 t.bells - 2 harp - strings (min
Commissioned by the David Cohen Family Charitable Trust for the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
First Performance
17.2.89, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden: Royal Opera House Orchestra/Bernard Haitink

Score 0-571-51291-7 on sale, parts for hire

Programme Notes

Colin Matthews Cortege (1989) Cortege is a slow piece, clothed in sombre orchestral colours (‘dark greys and blues’, according to the composer) and conceived, uniquely for Matthews, entirely in one time signature: 3/2. However, the composer denies that this rather bleak general mood (reinforced by the percussion section) implies that the cortege is a funeral procession: in fact, one of his intentions was ‘to avoid any sort of rhetoric or grand gestures in the instrumental lines themselves; to be objective’. The shape of the work is tripartite. The first section opens with three timpani notes which will permeate the music. Then, acting as a sort of cantus firmus underneath the strings, the trombones have a sequence of long notes from which the rest of Cortege is derived. As Matthews explains: ‘The whole introductory section explores varied ramifications of this cantus firmus; the strings, for instance, play it canonically at double speed.’ At the same time Matthews sets up a sequence of triads – the D minor, B minor, A flat minor, and so on – which are used not in a harmonic sense or to establish tonality, but as a series of pivots. ‘You might compare these to the backdrops to a stage,’ says Matthews. ‘It influences the foreground but it doesn’t necessarily provide a tonal pull on what is happening in the foreground.’ However, after a build-up where the pace (if not the basic pulse) is considerably heightened, a central section gradually draws together many of the threads of the music, straightens out the rhythms that have previously (in the composer’s description) been ‘subverted’, and moves towards a climax in which the massive triad chords, which have previously been in the background, themselves become the foreground. After that comes a coda, ‘a rather hopeless echo of what has gone before’ according to the composer, which finally settles on to a muted D minor chord. Cortege was a David Cohen commission sponsored by the David Cohen Family Charitable Trust and first performed on February 17th 1989 by the Royal Opera House Orchestra under Bernard Haitink for their series of Garden Concerts.

Richard Morrison

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News & Reviews

'Cortege' reviews

“… just as dramatic, but on a more menacing and darker scale, was Colin Matthews’s Cortège. From the opening bars of thudding timpani and wailing strings, this work enthralled the ear. His deployment of percussion was masterful. The strident drums imbued with a visceral tribalism formed the underlying driving force of the piece, while strings wailed and the brass barked above it.’ The Scotsman (Susan Nickalls), 18 October 1993 Read more

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