February 19, 2010

Gavin’s Notes:


Piano Concerto (2010)

Ralph van Raat approached me about the possibility of my writing a concerto for him some time ago. I enjoyed talking with him and, above all, I liked very much his playing and his approach to music in general, and repertoire in particular. He is very much aware of the nature of my work and we did not feel it necessary to “consult” during the composition process but rather to speak in detail once the piece had been composed to discuss ideas and to make decisions. This continued right up to the performance.

Although the overall feeling of my piece does not convey any sense of urgency, and perhaps the overall tempo is slow, there is constant movement within the piece and Ralph was away of this tendency within my work when he approached me – and it is something that he relishes. Of course all pianists are capable of playing at fast tempi and with agility, but virtuosity also refers to musicality and I have always found it interesting to hear great players play (apparently) easy music (though this concerto is not “easy” in either sense).

The presence of a male chorus within the concerto represents a kind of homage to Busoni, a composer whom I have always admired and whose piano concerto has one in the last movement. As it happens I used a chorus of Russian bass voices in my recent double bass concerto so there is precedence within my own work too. Of course if there are voices then there are words and my choice of the poetry of the great Scottish poet Edwin Morgan alludes to my work with male choirs – I have set six of his “Sonnets from Scotland” already, three of them for the Estonian National Male Choir. The two sonnets The Solway Canal and A Place of Many Waters are heard in their entirety in the piece, and the first gives a subtitle to the concerto, just as Kukol’nik’s “Farewell to St Petersburg” gives a subtitle to the double bass concerto.

Text of The Solway Canal

Slowly through the Cheviot Hills at dawn
we sailed. The high steel bridge at Carter Bar
passed over us in fog with not a car
in its broad lanes. Our hydrofoil slid on,
vibrating quietly through wet rock walls
and scarves of dim half-sparkling April mist;
a wizard with a falcon on his wrist
was stencilled on our bow. Rough waterfalls
flashed on that northern island of the Scotts
as the sun steadily came up and cast
red light along the uplands and the waves,
and gulls with open beaks tore out our thoughts
through the thick glass to where the Eildons massed,
or down to the Canal’s drowned borderers’ graves.

Edwin Morgan (from Sonnets from Scotland)


A Place of Many Waters

Infinitely variable water,
let seals bob in your silk or loll on Mull
where the lazy fringes rustle; let hull
and screw slew you round, blind heavy daughter
feeling for shores; keep kelpies in loch lairs,
eels gliding, malts mashing, salmon springing;
let the bullers roar to the terns winging
in from a North Sea’s German Ocean airs
of pressing crashing Prussian evening blue;
give linns long fall; bubble divers bravely
down to mend the cable you love to rust;
and slant at night through lamplit cities, true
as change is true, on gap-site pools, gravely
splintering the puckering of the gust.

Edwin Morgan (from Sonnets from Scotland)

Gavin Bryars