Two Pieces for Strings - 1.Little Chaconne & 2. Fall Dances


by David Matthews

string orchestra
String Orchestra
First Performance
Little Chaconne: 2.5.97, St Georges Brandon Hill, Bristol, UK: Bournemouth Sinfonietta/Tamás Vásáry Two Pieces: 10.11.00, Valletta, Malta: Britten Sinfonia/Nicholas Cleobury

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Programme Notes
Two Pieces for Strings Little Chaconne was commissioned by the Bournemouth Orchestras with financial assistance from the Arts Council of England. It was first performed by the Bournemouth Sinfonietta conducted by Tamás Vásáry at St. George’s Brandon Hill, Bristol on 2 May 1997. Fall Dances was commissioned by the Britten Sinfonia with financial assistance from the British Council. It was first performed by the Britten Sinfonia conducted by Nicholas Cleobury in Valletta, Malta on 10 November 2000. Little Chaconne was written for the Bournemouth Sinfonietta in 1996 as an independent piece. In 1986 I had written my Chaconne for orchestra, which was a meditation on a particular tragic event (the Battle of Towton, the bloodiest of the Wars of the Roses, as evoked by Geoffrey Hill in his poem-sequence called Funeral Music). Little Chaconne is also, in part, a meditation, and also tragic in tone, though there are no specific associations. I had the earlier piece in mind, however, when I wrote Little Chaconne, and its coda is deliberately modelled on that of Chaconne. The four-note chaconne theme appears on pizzicato bass in the brief introduction; then, in a quasi-funeral march, as the bass to a theme in the violas that grows out of it. This theme, together with the chaconne bass, appears in various transformations throughout the piece, reaching its most clearly defined and in tensest form near the end. There are two fugato interludes, the first very fast, the second the same music in a slower tempo. The hushed coda ends with a few fleeting bars of the fugato music. Fall Dances was intended from the start as a complementary piece to Little Chaconne, and it is more or less its exact opposite, light instead of dark, predominantly fast instead of slow, joyful instead of tragic. I wrote it during an exceptional beautiful September at the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire in 1999, where I worked in a cabin deep in the woods, completely silent except for the constant background of birds and insects. This idyllic stillness is evoked in the central section of Fall Dances. Otherwise, as its name implies, the piece is a succession of dance-like sections. The first two are lyrical, the third more strongly energetic. Then comes the slow interlude, after which there is a new dance in additive rhythm, with much canonic writing. The three original dances are repeated, no. 2 first, then a brief reference to no. 3, finally a coda based on the first dance. David Matthews

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