When at the start of 2021 I was planning this piece for string quartet and string orchestra, I thought of my Second String Trio whose form is based on North Indian classical music, with a slow contemplative introduction leading to a fast movement which is dancelike but with extensive use of pedal notes. I decided to use a variation of this form again, where the solo quartet would be able to play elaborate solos, something in the manner of the Indian sitar. I happened to listen to a recording of a radio talk by Aldous Huxley about symbols. I was very struck by his description of Shiva, the god of creation and destruction:
The figure stands within a great circle . . . which has flames going out . . . and this is the symbol of mass, energy, space, time. Within this Shiva dances . . . he’s everywhere in the universe . . . it’s all an immense manifestation of play. His lower right hand is held up in this attitude which means “be not afraid; in spite of everything, it is all right”. It includes … the idea of the infinite energy dancing timelessly and forever through this world.
I bought a small dancing Shiva statue myself for inspiration, and following Huxley’s description I devised a piece with an extensive slow introduction, based on its opening violin melody which is in a modal C major with flattened B, followed by a set of four dances, based on the four elements: earth (loud and vigorous), water (a series of solos from the quartet followed by a moto perpetuo for the orchestral strings), air (a light scherzo) and fire (an energetic waltz). The dances culminate in a fortissimo repeat of the opening theme, in its initial C, and a quiet coda which reaches out towards the timeless.