Sudden Time


large orchestra
Full Orchestra
4(all=picc+afl).2(=garklein recorder).ca.2(I=Bb+A).bcl.2.cbsn - 4441 - timp - perc(5): 4 sets sleigh bells/9 whip/2 vib(+db bow)/2 susp.cym/5 tamb/10 mini-tabla/2 glsp/4 guiro/5 bongo/16 crot/3 tom-t/2 BD/2 rototom - pno - 2 harp - strings (
First Performance
21.7.1993, Meltdown Festival, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, UK: London Philharmonic Orchestra/George Benjamin

Score 0-571-51521-5 on sale, parts for hire

Programme Notes

The gestation period for this orchestral piece was lengthy - the first sketches date back to 1983 and the last bars were completed shortly before the première a decade later. As this period progressed my ideas for the type of piece I wanted to write gradually crystallised - this process involved the invention of a new technical approach as well as the rejection of certain concepts very much tied to my earlier works. Above all I wanted the music to flow with considerable agility, the material evolving across the orchestra, sometimes in several different directions simultaneously. To achieve this the texture throughout is conceived in linear terms, the audible harmony being created by the fusion of separate lines. The resulting structure oscillates between focused, pulsed simplicity and whirlpools of complex polyrhythm. An organic sense of continuity between these extremes is made possible by the fact that all material, however plain or elaborate, is based on a few musical cells of great simplicity. Sudden Time basically divides into two continuous movements, the first (lasting about five minutes) acting as a turbulent introduction to the second, where a subliminal metre is perpetually distorted and then re-assembled. Even through an exceptionally large orchestra is employed, my intention at times was to achieve a transparency akin to chamber music. Material was directly conceived into full score and there is no decorative padding or conventional doubling. Some unusual instruments are employed, including a quartet of alto flutes, a pair of miniature recorders, a muted piano and a plethora of mini-tablas which accompany the extremely difficult viola solo at the work=s end. The title is a quotation from a Wallace Stevens poem, AMartial Cadenza@ - AIt was like sudden time in a world without time.@ Some of the concepts behind this piece can be illustrated by a dream I once had in which the sound of a thunderclap seemed to stretch to at least a minute=s duration before suddenly circulating, as if in a spiral, through my head. I then woke, and realised that I was in fact experiencing merely the first second of a real thunderclap. I had perceived it in dreamtime, in between and in real time. Although this is but analogy, a sense of elasticity, of things stretching, warping and coming back together, is something that I have tried to capture in this piece.

© George Benjamin

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