- chamber ensemble of 15 players
- Mixed Chamber Ensemble
- fl(=picc+afl).ob.basset cl.bcl – hn.tpt(=wine bottle).trbn – perc(2): tgl/c.bell/wdbl/SD/hi-hat/guiro/3 tam-t/2 small finger drum/wood chimes/flexatone/belltree/shell chimes/mar/crot – pno(=accordion) – 2 vln.vla.vlc.db
- First Performance
- 24.2.91, Cambridge Festival of Contemporary Music, West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge, UK: Contemporary Music Festival Ensemble/Thomas Adès (professional) 9.3.93, West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge: BBC Philharmonic Orchestra/Matthias Bamert
- Programme Notes
This piece began as a concerto for basset-clarinet, an instrument which attracted me greatly on account of its extraordinary range. During the course of composing, however, the accompanying chamber ensemble became infected with the personality of the solo instrument, until the whole group represented in my mind a super-basset-clarinet with strings and a constant rhythm section. All the melodic rays given out during the introduction eventually converge on the basset-clarinet.
The Chamber Symphony compresses the symphonic four-movement structure into one continuous form. The introduction consists of a tune and a winding-up of the mechanism; this leads to a sonata-form first movement with clearly defined first and second subject groups in the manner of Schubert. At the recapitulation, the two are superimposed. There then follows a winding-down of the mechanism towards the slow movement. The queasy but strict tango-rhythm which underlay the first movement slows to a cavernous tread, over which a solo trombone becomes the “basset-clarinet” and broods over the tune from the introduction. The line smears onto other imitation basset-clarinets, eventually devolving onto the real one, which begins a long line. This accumulates an entourage, and leads to a climax incorporating material form the first subject group of the first movement. An impasse is reached, to be sidestepped by the entrance of a new instrument – the accordion – which performs a modulation that grows into the start of the scherzo. As a rolling stone gathers moss, this initially fragile texture gradually accumulates flotsam from the first movement, whirling up to a frantically ‘squeezed’ desperately high rendition of the work’s initial tune. The scherzo explodes with the chord on which the slow movement struck, leaving once again the accordion alone; this time the cadence takes longer, and in place of a rondo-finale, the work ends with a serene overview of the preceding music, as if from a great height. Ends are tied up, and the ensemble folds back into its two generative elements: the basset-clarinet, and the almost cardiac unpitched percussion.