As I mentioned before, I am working on an oboe concerto. This is a commission for the Handel Collection, and will be performed on 5 July 2011, 13:00–14:00 at St Stephen Walbrook (warning: site plays music), 39 Walbrook, London, EC4N 8BN. Please come along if you can!
I’m currently working on the central movement, which is a sort of meta-canonical sarabande. I thought it might be interesting to say a few words about it while it takes shape.
The movement is based around three key ideas:
I’m going to describe the chaconne here; the other elements will come in future posts.
One of my favourite musical techniques is the process of gradual transformation found in bellringing. In this process, a row of pitches is repeated over and over, but with each repitition any two neighbouring pitches can ‘change‘, swapping places. In campanology, there is a great discipline to coordinating a group of ringers to perform a whole sequence, or peal, of changes without fault; on a smaller scale this is a great way to produce musical material that maintains unity while developing over time.
In my chaconne, two rows are transformed: the viola has a descending chromatic scale from a′, while the cello and double bass have a figure that opens chromatically like a funnel from A:
On the second repetition, I apply a simple transformation to each row: in the viola, places 1 & 2 swap places, as do 3 & 4, 5 & 6, 7 & 8, 9 & 10, and 11 & 12. In the bass, places 1 and 12 remain in place while 2 & 3, 4 & 5, 6 & 7, 8 & 9, and 10 & 11 all swap:
If I were then to apply the same transformation again, I would get back to where I started, so instead I apply the transformation originally used in the viola to the bass, and vice versa:
If I continued this long enough (24 changes), I would return to where I had started, having performed a plain hunt maximus (ie, the simplest possible pattern on 12 pitches); for this movement, I am more interested in moving from one row to another, rather than returning, so I finish the piece after 13 rows (12 changes), at which point both voices have reversed:
As you will see from the excerpt at the top, I have set these notes to an ostinato rhythm, whose purpose is to support the counterpoint above; each note in the row takes up a bar, so we have a total of 12 × 13 = 156 bars, which, anticipating my next post, happens to be 2 × (1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 + 7 + 8 + 9 + 10 + 11 + 12).