Suns Dance


chamber ensemble of 10 players
Mixed Chamber Ensemble
picc.ob.bcl.cbsn - hn - 2 vln.vla.vlc.db
Commissioned by the London Sinfonietta
First Performance
30.10.85, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Music of Eight Decades Series: London Sinfonietta/Oliver Knussen

Facsimile score 0-571-50993-2 on sale, parts for hire

Programme Notes

Colin Matthews Suns Dance For ten players (1985) Though Colin Matthews’ Suns Dance lasts only some 16 minutes, its score runs to 157 pages – more than many a full-length symphony. The reason is simply the pace at which the music tears along. What intensifies the impetus is that, though certain types of texture recur, there is basically no thematic repetition – rather, a constant throwing up of fresh figures. In fact, a number of Matthews’ recent works have been concerned with a continuous process of generation – an idea that can partly be traced to his passing interest in American minimalism in the 1970s and more saliently perhaps, to such innovations of early modernism as the Obbligato Recitative in Schoenberg’s Five Pieces for Orchestra. Suns Dance opens with abrupt alterations of jigging note-clusters and single sustained pitches, and much of the argument is conducted in a kind of two-part counterpoint of cantus firmus-like slow lines against squigglingly ductile fast ones. But an ever varied process of instrumental doubling and heterophonic amplification, and the way the counterpoint itself rears and plunges between high and low, create a perpetual unpredictability. The work certainly demands the utmost virtuosity from its conductor and ten players and its hectic brilliance is increased by an unusual choice of wind instruments to pit against its five strings: piccolo, oboe, horn, bass clarinet and contrabassoon, of which the latter’s part must be the most manic ever written for the instrument. The title is not apparently meant to signify anything programmatic beyond a general suggestion of character and the form is difficult to break down into separate sections. But there is an increasing tendency for the hyperactive lines to settle into machine gun-like iterations scale patterns after about halfway, and the approach to the end is signalled by a series of freezings onto static chords, by analogy with the opening. Commissioned by the London Sinfonietta with Arts Council funds and first performed on 30 October 1985 under Oliver Knussen, Suns Dance proved an exhilarating surprise for those who had tended until then to pigeon-hole Matthews as a post-Mahlerian romantic. In 1987 Ashley Page successfully choreographed the work for the Royal Ballet under the title Pursuit. In extending his piece for this purpose and, perhaps, out of the consideration for the players and dancers alike, Matthews made some detailed changes in the scoring and added a slower introduction, interlude and conclusion. Bayan Northcott, 1988 Please contact Bayan Northcott for permission to use this.

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