Perseus by Charlotte Bray. Commissioned by Tony and Caroline Marriott for the 300th anniversary of Guy Johnston's Tecchler cello. This work was composed in 2015 and first performed on 25 September 2015 at the Hatfield House Chamber Music Festival, UK, by Guy Johnston (cello) and Tom Poster (piano).

Guy Johnston asked for this piece to commemorate the 300th anniversary of his cello, with the idea that it would reflect in some way the history of the instrument. The composer took the name of the maker, David Tecchler, and translated its letters into a musical language to form the harmonic backbone of the work. The harmonic structure of the first main section (after the introduction), for example, follows the letters of his name: D-A-v-i-D t-E-C-C-H(B)-l-E-r, ignoring the small letters which don’t literally translate into notes.

The work also takes inspiration from the phenomenon known as a ‘super massive black hole’. Captivating images have recently revealed that the black hole in the centre of the Perseus galaxy, a constellation in the Northern hemisphere, dominates everything around it by propelling an extraordinary amount of radiation and energy out into the surrounding gas. The strange paradox is that an explosive feeding black hole is the brightest source of life in the galaxy, greedy and luminous. Bray is fascinated and motivated creatively by this unseen and unknowable force. Exploring various imaginary states, this abstract source found its way into the piece.

The introduction contains three contrasting short musical kernels, each of which is explored and expanded upon in the main body of the piece. The cello line is underpinned by a low piano drone, and, in the second and third phrases, a high accented chord. This flows into a delicate section, sparsely written, as if the notes are distant stars in the galaxy far away. Growing out of this is a section labelled ‘White heat, luminous’: an intense, rhythmic and repetitive bass line thunders away, punctuated by high stabbing clusters. The sustained glowing cello line leads to fast outbursts. A high cello melody sings throughout the third section, the lyrical centre of the piece, intense and gritty above the powerful chordal piano accompaniment. The fourth and final section is deeply calm, a slow reflective end to the piece.

- Charlotte Bray

Performance Notes

Diamond noteheads in the cello part show the touching point of a natural harmonic, with the sounding pitch given afterwards where necessary. Normal noteheads with a harmonic circle above indicate both the touching point and the sounding pitch.