Concerto for Two Double Reeds in detail: I — Tessellations

This is the first in a series of post-performance analyses of my Concerto for Two Double Reeds. Click here to have a look at the score of movement I — Tessallations or listen to the live recording*.

The first movement of my Concerto for Two Double Reeds is for oboe solo and orchestra; it builds on two ideas:

The first idea is stolen from György Ligeti, and it is to divide the chromatic scale according to the keys on the piano: the white keys form a diatonic scale, and the black keys form a pentatonic one. In this case, the white notes are given to the oboe, and the black notes to the orchestra.

The orchestra play their notes with two textures: sustained chords, and descending pizzicati passed from instrument to instrument. The five notes of the pentatonic scale are divided between the five parts: Violin I, Violin II, Viola, Cello, Double Bass in a succession of narrowing, then broadening spacings:

The following chords:  [͵A♯ G♯ f♯ d♯´ c♯´´] –  [F♯ c♯ g♯ d♯´ a♯´] –  [c♯ f♯ a♯ d♯´ g♯´] –  [g♯ a♯ c♯´ d♯´ f♯´] –  [c♯ f♯ a♯ d♯´ g♯´] –  [D♯ c♯ g♯ d♯´ a♯´] –  [͵A♯ G♯ f♯ d♯´ c♯´´] –  [͵D♯ D♯ d♯ d♯´ d♯´´]

Throughout this sequence the second violins hold middle d´♯, which acts as a pivot for the other notes. Within the pentatonic scale, the first chord can be considered to be build on 5ths (A♯ – C♯ – D♯ – F♯ – G♯ is five successive degrees of the pentatonic scale), the second on 4rds, the third on 3rds, and the fourth on 2nds, so the spacing is entirely regular, albeit within an irregularly spaced scale.

The second idea is to base the oboe part, within the confines of the diatonic scale, around a repeating group of intervals. All the oboe material is based around a ladder, or tessellation, formed of rising perfect fifths and falling major seconds, a technique which acknowledges Messiaen’s modes of limited transposition, whilst doing pretty much the opposite!

Treble clef, in succession the notes e´ – b´ – a´ – e´´ – d´´ – a´´ – g´´ – d´´´ – c´´´

Pushed much further this pattern would encounter black notes, but then again, pushed much further it would exceed the oboe’s range!

The resulting movement is in two sections:

In Section 1, the strings hold each, successively narrower, spacing of the pentatonic pitch set while the oboe plays increasingly florid, improvisatory material. For each chord the oboe plays three phrases of increasing length, followed by the pizzicato string motif.

The final, close-spaced pizzicato motif of Section 1 becomes the first motif in Section 2, which is for strings alone. The abandon the sustained chords, and just play the pizz motifs in reverse order. Finally, reach a 4-octave span of D♯s, which they play three times, ending fff to end the movement.

In workshopping this movement, we discussed various ways to notate the oboe passages. I had originally been fairly specific about which notes should be triplets, and about dividing the material into bars, but felt that this detracted from the rhythmic freedom the performer should have in interpreting the material. Rhuti’s performance brought a lyricism to this movement that went beyond what I had envisioned, and even elicited comparisons — unexpected, but not unwelcome — to  Delius.

Note: if you would like to listen to a recording of this performance, please get in touch and I can send you a link.

(*Please read my note on copyright.)