Commissioned by Rambert Dance Company for dance choreographed by Lucinda Childs.
Instrumentation: alto saxophone, bass clarinet, flugelhorn, horn, trombone, piano, electric keyboard, bass,, taped voice (or male alto), 2 percussion.
First performance: Apollo Theatre, Oxford, 16 November 1990.
Four Elements (1990)
Four Elements was commissioned by Rambert Dance Company for the ballet by Lucinda Childs in 1990. I got to know Lucinda’s work through the director Robert Wilson at the time I was working on his The CIVIL WarS. from 1981 to 1984. I had let Lucinda have some tapes and she made a solo dance, Outline, to one of these pieces (Out of Zaleski’s Gazebo). The commission from Rambert provided the opportunity, finally, for us to meet. The initial idea for the dance was hers and we discussed many times throughout that year the nature of the piece, its structure and relative pace. The music falls into in 4 sections: ‘Water’, ‘Earth’, ‘Air’ and ‘Fire’, each one being given a different musical character in terms of tempo, instrumental emphasis and colour; and theatrical character through different permutations of the 8 dancers (‘Earth’, for example uses only the 4 females, while ‘Air’ uses the 4 male dancers), the relative complexity of repetitive movement and the use of space.
Part 1 – ‘Water’ – is slow and features the bass clarinet and colouristic percussion (including the water gong).
Part 2 – ‘Earth’ – is at a medium tempo with a slow melodic line for tuned percussion and a mirrored line for wind instruments.
Part 3 – ‘Air’ – is fast with an accompaniment by keyboards supporting high solo parts for (in sequence) alto saxophone, flugelhorn, and sax with French horn.
Part 4 – ‘Fire’ – is slow with overlapping lines for unison brass (trombone, horn, flugelhorn) and amplified double bass, using effects pedals, with bass clarinet, over slow keyboard arpeggios and ends with a Coda in which David James’ alto voice sings a short vocalise over low drones from the ensemble….
As well as working closely with Lucinda I also had a fruitful collaboration with Roger Heaton, then music director of Rambert who is also clarinettist in my own ensemble. I deliberately chose to use a range of instruments that I had not used before – especially the combination of instruments in the wind section (alto saxophone, bass clarinet, flugelhorn, French horn and tenor trombone). The piece was first performed at the Apollo Theatre Oxford in November 1990 and subsequently filmed for BBC Television’s Dancemakers series.