Tom Coult is composer-in-residence at this summer’s Festival Musikdorf Ernen. The special focus on his music, including two world premieres, will feature across July, August and September in the mountain village of Ernen in the Swiss alps.
Coult’s new horn trio Two Nocturnes and a Maze premieres on 6 August, and will be performed by Daniel Bard (violin), Alec Franck-Gemmill (horn), and Alasdair Beatson (piano), artistic director of the Festival. The 17½ minute work is cast in three movements, the two nocturnes of the title framing a skittish, uneasy central ‘Maze’. Coult composed the work with the performance setting in mind, which looks down on an Alpine valley.
“I couldn’t really resist evoking the alphorn – Nocturne I opens with the sound of solo horn, playing a melody on its natural harmonics. This melody becomes a bit of an obsession, repeating in various guises, but also orbiting around two other ingredients: more mechanical contributions from the violin, and solemnly descending chords in the piano.”
Two Nocturnes and a maze borrows material from Coult’s recent works. The opening bars of the second movement come from the last bars of a movement of his 2020 Violin Concerto Pleasure Garden. “The aim here”, Coult says, “was to make listening to the piece a bit like navigating a hedge maze – you often seem to return to the start, and try to retrace your steps, but it’s not quite how you remember it. The final Nocturne reworks material from the seventh and first scenes of Coult’s recent hit chamber opera Violet.
Two days later 8 August sees the premiere of Prelude (after Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe), a 5½ minute work for lower strings. It is performed by Barbara Buntrock (viola), Alessandro D’Amico (viola), Chiara Enderle Samatanga (cello), Nadja Reich (cello), and Jordi Carrasco Hjelm (double bass). It is a an arrangement of the Prelude from the E minor suite for Viol by the celebrated 17th-century composer and violist Jean de Sainte-Colombe, whose life was dramatized in Alain Corneau’s 1991 film Tous les matins du monde.
Both Two Nocturnes and the Prelude were commissioned by Festival Musikdorf Ernen, supported by Stanley Thomas Johnson Foundation. Another recent work by Coult with a baroque inflection – Coult played for four years in the Manchester University Baroque Orchestra – is A Little Recessional for bass viol, which received its world premiere from Nathan Giorgetti at London’s Royal Academy of Music in June this year.
On 4 August Daniel Bard will perform Coult’s 2021 arrangement of Hildegard von Bingen O Ecclesia, an 8-minute work for solo violin and strings. On 17 July Sergey Tanin performed Coult’s 2019 solo piano work Inventions (for Heath Robinson). The 15-minute piece is named for the English cartoonist and illustrator, who created whimsical drawings of fantastical, impossible machines. 11 September will see a performance of Coult’s 2011 piano trio “The Chronophage”. As with Coult’s Violet, the 17-minute piece expresses a longstanding preoccupation with time in his music. It is performed by the Davidoff Trio.