Music of Dawn, The


by David Matthews

large orchestra
Full Orchestra
4(III+IV=picc) - 6331 - timp - perc(4): 2 timp/BD/2 conga/3 tam-t/4 susp.cym/2 siz.cym/ch.cym/caxixi/2 metal mcas/rainmaker/xyl/mar/vib/6 crot - 2 harp - strings
Commissioned by the Young Musicians' Symphony Orchestra with fundsprovided by Unilever
First Performance
28.11.90, Royal Festival Hall, London: Young Musicians' Symphony Orchestra/James Blair

Score 0-571-51220-8 on sale, parts for hire

Programme Notes

In June 1989 I went to the Cecil Collins retrospective exhibition at the Tate Gallery. I did not know that he had died, at the age of 81, shortly after the exhibition opened, until I saw the memorial bowl of flowers placed at the entrance. It was a shock: I had met Cecil Collins only once, but he had made a profound impression on me, and I had grown to admire his work more and more in recent years. I went round the exhibition in a state of heightened awareness, and when I reached the last room, with his very last paintings, I was taken aback by their beauty and the freshness of their vision. I was particularly struck by the painting called ‘The Music of Dawn’. A priestess stands on the seashore, in soft dawn light, her right hand pointing down to the sun rising out of the sea. It is painted in tempera, and the colours are warm and glowing. It immediately suggested music – as, from its title, it was obviously intended to do. Cecil Collins was the most musical of painters, and I hope that he would have liked the idea of his painting being evoked in the medium of orchestral sound. Of course one cannot literally translate a painting into music, or a seascape – and my piece is also related to my own frequent experience of seeing the sun rising out of the sea at Deal in Kent, where much of the piece was written. The piece developed further when I had the idea of contrasting a static ‘dawn’ with a dynamic ‘morning’ music. This came after I saw another painting by Collins, his altarpiece of the sun, ‘Icon of Divine Light’, in Chichester Cathedral. The first part of my piece, slow and contemplative, evokes the pale dawn light, with its subtle shifts of colour and sense of expectation. What movement there is takes place against a background of sustained pedal notes. The intensification at the end of this section heralds the first real climax, for the rising of the sun. The remainder of the piece, which is fast and energetic, is a celebration of the morning, after the sun has gained strength. In form it is a scherzo in several sections, in the last two of which the music gradually slows towards a return of the opening of the piece; then a coda for the strings and a final blaze of midday light. The Music of Dawn was commissioned by the Young Musicians' Symphony Orchestra with funds provided by Unilever.

© David Matthews

Licensing Information

News & Reviews

'The Music of Dawn' review

'Long-held, many-layered chords glow faintly and fade again; wisps of melody drift away from them and form into insistent flute patterns above the pulse of breaking waves. Sunrise provokes a more purposeful energy, which works through leaner lines and lively additive rhythms towards a renewed but now blazing stillness, poised on the edge of infinity' The Independent (Robert Maycock), 30 November 1990 Read more

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