Ringed by the Flat Horizon


Full Orchestra
3(II+III=picc).2.ca.3(II=Ebcl.III=bcl).2.cbsn - 4.tpt in D.2.3.1 - perc(5): 4 timp/SD/siz.cym/BD/5 tpl.bl/5 bongos/glass chimes/whip/5 susp.cym/glsp/tam-t/tgl/vib/xyl/t.bells/cyms - cel - pno - harp - strings (pref

Written for the Cambridge University Musical Society

First Performance
5.3.1980, Faculty of Music, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK: CUMS Orchestra/Mark Elder London Premiere: 25.8.1980, BBC Promenade Concert, Royal Albert Hall, London, UK: BBC Symphony Orchestra/Mark Elder

Study score 0-571-51078-7 on sale, full score and parts for hire

Programme Notes

A dramatic photograph of a thunderstorm over the New Mexico desert and an extract from T.S.Eliot’s The Waste Land provided the inspiration for this piece. I wanted to portray an eerie tension as a landscape is overwhelmed by a vast storm. The work starts slowly and mysteriously, with a succession of three textures that recur throughout the structure – weird, soft, bell chords, a sustained semitone clash, and deep tremors in the lower registers of the orchestra which depict distant thunder. Piccolo solos surrounded by high violins follow, and fuller developments of the opening ideas, gradually transform the momentum to faster music. Here a sonority of wind and muted trumpets, punctuated by wooden percussion, is juxtaposed with quieter, more lyrical cello solos. These build with increasing intensity, culminating in a massive climax, after which the music slowly descends to the bass register, subsiding in a solitary bass-drum roll. There follows a sequence of dark, ominous chords for full orchestra (a sound completely new to the piece), interspersed with solo melodic lines over the deep tremors of the opening. For a moment the original semitone clash hovers motionless in the air; the thunder at last erupts in a violent explosion; and the work returns to a mood of unreal calm, ending as it began, with a soft bell chord.

© George Benjamin

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