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Programme Notes

Why 23? Why ‘frames’?

23 happens to be a favourite number (not uninfluenced by the fact that Berg was obsessed by it). ‘Frames’ because each of the 23 sections incorporates, more or less obliquely, a reference to another piece of music, as if seen in a frame (sometimes hardly seen at all). Since 23 is one less than 24, each referential piece was chosen from one of the 24 major and minor keys, leaving out one, which runs throughout as a linking thread. Thus the first section, after a single introductory bar, takes as its starting point Debussy’s Prelude 'Les collines d’Anacapri', which is in B major, although it soon leaves it behind. This is one of the easier references to pick up; and since the use of these quasi-quotations is structural rather than thematic I don’t intend to reveal any of the others!

Why 4 players?

The rather unusual combination of horn, viola, cello and piano was something I decided on well before I began the piece. In the event it has turned out to be more of a virtuoso work than I was expecting, and I have not excessively indulged in the rich but sombre colours that these four instruments might suggest.

Each section lasts approximately 30 seconds, giving an overall duration of between eleven and twelve minutes in a single movement, whose shape is, roughly, fast-slow-fast. All the possible combinations of one, two, and three instruments alternate, from section to section, with the use of all four, and this is used to demarcate the individual sections, since the musical argument usually cuts across the division into ‘frames’. I decided, before I started the piece, to determine both the sequence of the frames and their instrumentation randomly – my daughter picked them out of a hat.

I was tempted to begin this note by advising that this last paragraph should be read first, since I’m aware that this sounds rather a crazy way to compose a piece of music, and perhaps it is. But I particularly wanted a strong – if eccentric – framework against which to write the music because I was keen to try to write something both exuberant and zany, and which, though tightly controlled, might sound spontaneous and improvisatory. While I have little time for contemporary music that is simply lightweight – there is plenty of much better ‘light’ music from the past – I can’t help regretting that most new music, including my own, tends to take itself pretty seriously.

23 Frames is dedicated to Amelia Freedman and the Nash Ensemble, who commissioned it.

Colin Matthews


'[23 Frames] packed memories of Schubert, Scriabin and others into a breathtaking spring…'
The Independent (Nicholas Williams), 11 March 1995

23 Frames

Snape Maltings Concert Hall (Snape, Suffolk, United Kingdom)

Aldeburgh Young Musicians

23 Frames

"Tinerimea Română"

National Arts Centre (Bucharest, Romania)

23 Frames

BOZAR (Brussels, Belgium)

Nash Ensemble

23 Frames

Kettle's Yard (Cambridge, United Kingdom)

New Music Players

23 Frames

Koninklijk Conservatorium (Den Haag, Netherlands)

Exam Den Haag