Imagin'd Corners


Full Orchestra
3(II+III=picc).3(III=ca).3.3(III=cbsn) - 5331 - timp - perc(4): vib/glsp/c.bells/cyms/3 tuned javanese gongs/3 tgl/4 susp.cym/2 dustbins/BD/t.bells/metal chimes/almglocken/crot/3 anvils/2 tam-t - harp - pno(=cel) - strings
Commissioned by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra as part of the composer's three year appointment as Composer in Association.
First Performance
12.3.02: UK, Symphony Hall, Birmingham: City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Sakari Oramo

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Programme Notes
I have always had a particular affection for the horn. It has a fantastically large range, a wide variety of playing styles and techniques and is particularly vivid and evocative. Horns are by turns capable of tenderness, lyricism, savagery, and can be bucolic or celebratory. Thanks to the valve system invented in the nineteenth century they are capable of playing in the equal temperament of recent Western music. They can also revert to the natural horn playing technique using overtones in just intonation, as in the shrill massed choirs of cors de chasse, and the many traditions across Eastern Europe of natural alphorn calls. Brahms preferred natural horns, and much contemporary music has made play of the distonation of these untempered pitches (a rough quarter-tone scale can be obtained with them). My approach in this piece has been different, in that I do not use the microtones to sound ‘out-of-tune’ but to offer a consistent and beautiful system of harmony and resonances in their own right. This piece is composed in both this system and a double of it in normal equal tuning. The orchestra is mostly - but not entirely - confined to the second system, whilst the horns use both equal and just systems. The harmonic language is based upon combining overtone series with fundamentals either a whole tone or a minor third apart. Any dissonances are built up by superimposing consonant intervals from more than one overtone series. The other element that is key to the piece is the use of space. Although earlier pieces of mine explored this tentatively (for example the brief offstage horn fanfares at the end of Pavillons en l’Air), in Imagin’d Corners space is central throughout. One of the horns is seated at the rear centre of the stage throughout the work, between the wind and brass; its function is both to dialogue with the other horns and also to blend into the orchestra when they are not playing. The other four concertante horns are mobile. They open the work offstage (preferably from a balcony) and remain there for the first third of the work. Following a long slowly accelerating interlude they appear at the centre of the platform, seated in front of the conductor and their cors de chasse character comes to the fore in emphatic polyrhythmic music. A polytonal orchestral passage follows, featuring a long unfolding melodic line darting unpredictably between the main harmonic series with gentle calls echoing between horns and orchestra. Eventually the densest polyphonic writing in the work leads to the final climax at the end: the horns move to the corners of the stage bellowing wild alphorn-style calls and cries to each other against a jangling orchestral tumult. I would like to express my deep gratitude to Mark Phillips and the horns of the CBSO for their co-operation and support throughout the composition of the project, as well as to Sakari Oramo and the CBSO for their collaboration on this my first piece as composer-in-association with them. Julian Anderson

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