Océan de Terre

(1976)

by Oliver Knussen

Description
soprano and chamber ensemble of 7 (or 9) players
Duration
12
Genres
Mixed Chamber Ensemble, Soprano
Text
Guillaume Apollinaire
Instrumentation
fl(=afl).cl(=bcl) - perc(1/2): vib/glsp/t.bells/susp.cym/gong/2 tam-t/xyl/wdbl/tpl.bl/claves/whip/mcas/2 tom-t - pno(=cel+tpl.bl/mcas) 1 or 2 players - vln.vlc.db
Languages
French
Commission
Written for Collage Ensemble, Boston
First Performance
(revised version) 29.7.76, BBC Prom, Round House, London: Mary Thomas/Fires of London/Peter Maxwell Davies
Availability

Score 0-571-50583-X on sale, parts for hire

Programme Notes
Ocean de Terre was composed in the Autumn and Winter of 1972-3 for the Boston ensemble “Collage” who gave the first performance in February 1973. The piece underwent a substantial revision for the first British performance in July 1976 by The Fires of London at a Promenade concert. It is dedicated to my teacher Gunther Schuller, and lasts about eleven minutes. The text is a surrealist poem by Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918), which he dedicated to the painter de Chirico. The music grows out of the tension between two chord-blocks based on the interval of a fourth and, although continuous, falls clearly into a large ternary shape. In the first section (Misurato) a slow procession of chords is gradually obscured by ever-proliferating figuration. After a short recitative-like passage, this figuration focuses into the revolving perpetuum mobile rhythm of the central scherzo section (Vivace), superimposed on evolving durational cycles in piano, double-bass and percussion – suggested by the rhythmic play of breaking waves on the sea – which “surface” in a climactic peal of piano and vibraphone chords. A static but buoyant “trio” (flute solo) is disturbed by a momentary reminiscence of the opening, and in the ensuing abbreviated repeat of the scherzo the original roles are reversed, with the durational cycles present throughout in high “wooden” pizzicato, and the triplet figuration fragmented. A second (extremely loud) reference to the beginning of the work melts into a meditative final Adagio. The basic material is heard as a succession of long harmonic notes that close almost imperceptibly like a fan, accompanying a sequence of interlocking melodic lines and clock-like interpolations which “mark time”. These all move toward the music with which the work began, and at the close of the circle it breaks off. The poem (set in French) is layered on the music as another level of imagery and thus the voice is treated as very much a part of the overall ensemble texture. O.K. (1977)

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'Océan de Terre' reviews

'…a sumptuous piece, clotted with color, dense with incident, yet also transparent in its design; it lets you know where you are.' Read more

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