Instrumentation

3(II+III=picc).3(III=ca).3(III=bcl).3(III=cbsn) - 4331 - timp(=whip+Mass or sanctus bells) - perc(4): t.bell/ SD/3 bongo/2 tumba/cyms/mokubyo/2 wdbl/cabaca/2 vibraslap/4 rin/mar/tuned gongs/2 tam-t/2 tom-t/tamb/ anvil/tavolette/vib/glsp/BD/2 mcas/dinner bell/2 susp.cym/congas/siz.cym.turkish.cym/2 tgl/sleighbells/ flexatone/metal chimes/mass(sanctus) bells) - pno(=cel) - harp - strings (16.14.12.10.8)

Availability

Score 0-571-52058-8 on sale, parts for hire

Programme Notes

The title The Stations of the Sun refers not to any religious rite, but to the changing positions of the sun through each day, and through the seasons. Three years ago I read Ronald Hutton's fascinating book of the same name, explaining the origins of folk customs through the year - giving an egg at Easter, ceremonies for the winter solstice, and so forth; it immediately suggested ideas for a new orchestral piece. Instead of a literal programmatic approach, however, I decided to let the music take its own shape whilst keeping the idea of a seasonal cycle in mind as a background. The superficial form of the piece is quite simple - four linked sections plus a coda. As the music progresses, there is an increasing amount of interruption and cross-referencing, so that the true form of the piece is much more elusive and ambiguous. The following outline is not a blow-by-blow account, but a rough guide for those who wish it. The woodwind launch the work abruptly into a scherzo, presenting the simple melodic patterns to which much subsequent music can be more or less directly traced in an exuberant polyphonic dance. A cascading series of these melodies side-steps into a slow movement, mainly for the strings: at first a set of variations, with the theme presented by the violins alone, it soon develops into a continuous song with varied harmonic and polyphonic colours. A very fast dance for the flutes, clarinets and Japanese temple bells intervenes and the quickening pace releases a new scherzo. This is another variation on the slow movement theme, now revealed as the plainsong Alleluia 'Adorabo' - first on the strings, then on brass and wind, all accompanied by drums. The central plateau of the work follows: a long, ecstatic melody played mainly by the trumpets, extending and varying the plainsong, is surrounded and eventually overwhelmed by carillons on the rest of the orchestra. Here the music abandons equal temperament to include a small number of chords with microtones - chosen for their resonance and varied colour. The dance with drums is twice resumed, but now cross-cut with other musical characters, including an increasingly violent brass chorale used as a varied refrain. The tension is finally released in a polyphonic texture for the whole orchestra that precipitates the work's main climax: an evocation of Easter with an explosion of bells, both real and imaginary. As to the coda: a single six-octave mode gently resounds around the whole orchestra as many melodic and harmonic elements of the piece combine and unite for the first time in the work's only tutti - the harmonic goal towards which the entire work has been heading. A sudden 'zoom' at the very end denies the music any safe conclusion, suggesting instead the beginning of something new which is nut off before we can fully glimpse it.

Julian Anderson

Reviews

‘A glittering orchestral tone poem… [Anderson] is already revealing himself as a master of the medium.
The Daily Telegraph (Matthew Rye), 22 July 1998

‘A glistening, energetic, rhythmic, dancing piece… overlapping ideas constantly pass in and out of phase, to create a kind of constant collision that sometimes evolves into a shimmer… it is imaginatively, even brilliantly, orchestrated.’
The Boston Globe (Richard Dyer), 21 January 2000

‘A natural writer for large orchestra… It proclaims his obsession with bell sounds, both real and magically conjured out of combinations of other instruments… the build up to an exciting climax is achieved with notable skill. Tippett – another obsession of Anderson’s – lurks behind some of the work’s rhythmic exuberance and behind the heightened lyricism of the closing pages, but the music retains a vividly imagined hold on its own world of utterance.’
Independent (Keith Potter), 24 July 1998

‘Fine invention and a scintillating use of the orchestra confirmed the impression of striking talent… Summer’s glare and cold winter’s sunlight were captured in ebullient noises…’
BBC Music Magazine (Nicholas Williams), October 1998

 

The Stations of the Sun

Royal Albert Hall (London, United Kingdom)

Sir Andrew Davis, BBC Symphony Orchestra

The Stations of the Sun

BBC Radio 3 (United Kingdom)

Sir Andrew Davis, BBC Symphony Orchestra

The Stations of the Sun

BBC Radio 3 (United Kingdom)

Sir Andrew Davis, BBC Symphony Orchestra

The Stations of the Sun

House of Culture (Helsinki, Finland)

Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Oliver Knussen

The Stations of the Sun

BBC Radio 3 (United Kingdom)

Sir Andrew Davis, BBC Symphony Orchestra