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Programme Notes

I Sursum -
II Aetheria -
III Chori

Thomas Adès is an accomplished pianist, and, as a composer, has written three works for solo piano: Darknesse Visible (1992),  Still Sorrowing (1993), and Traced Overhead. They are short, profoundly expressive and mesmerisingly colourful pieces. Still Sorrowing in particular created new sounds in the piano with the application of strips of plastic adhesive to the strings. There is no such preparation of the instrument in Traced Overhead, but through exact instructions on graduated pedalling, and the cunning manipulation of harmonic and rhythmic space, this piece similarly creates its own unique sound world.

At around twelve minutes, Traced Overhead is the longest of Adès’s three solo piano works. It can be thought of as belonging to the progression from the tradition of the nineteenth century salon piano works of Schubert , Schumann, Chopin and Liszt, in its concise form and clear characterisation. If there is one overwhelming characteristic in Traced Overhead, it is the idea of upward motion.

Traced Overhead  is in three movements of progressively increasing length. The first, Sursum (the Latin adverb of upward motion - as in sursum corda - lift up your hearts), is marked velocissimo quasi senza peso (very fast, as if without weight), and lasts for under a minute. It begins with an opening tumble into the blue and a web of harmony, tune-like in the treble; whilst the bass has a melody of two short phrases and one long.

Aetheria explores further the sense of vertical space set up in Sursum. The atmosphere is expanded, the ascent is continued, says the composer, a record of things in the middle air. The tune is heard first in the treble. This is followed in the middle section with a new tune, and a literal homage to Schumann: an unplayed melody emerging mysteriously through the texture that results from the interplay between left and right hands, a technique developed by Schumann in the Humoreske. Then the first tune re-appears, this time exploring different strata in the bass.

Aetheria ends with a massive, controlled slowing down, leading without a break into the last and longest movement, Chori (choruses). This movement continues the ascent through the strata. The slow-moving layers of three part-chords create a sense of vertical space in which a new and richly harmonised melody is unfolded. The work ends with a tumble earthwards, descending through the previously-explored levels.

Traced Overhead was commissioned by Imogen Cooper and the Cheltenham International Festival with partial funding from the Arts Council of England. Imogen Cooper gave the first performance at the Cheltenham Festival on 20 July 1996.

© Matías Tarnopolsky


'A Roman candle of a work that takes off and releases a shower of sparkling notes… sounds utterly distinctive nand unpredictable. Traced Overhead blends beauty with a sense of exhilarating danger… I listened to the music rise explosively, gorgeously into the ether.'
Newsday (​Justin Davidson), 29 April 1998

Traced Overhead

No Venue (Dubrovnik, Croatia)

Vadym Kholodenko

Traced Overhead

No venue (Duszniki-Zdrój, Poland)

Vadym Kholodenko