Dedication: “to the cellists in my life”
Instrumentation: cello and piano
First performance: Sophie Harris, cello; Kathryn Page, piano
Michael Tippett Centre, Bath March 1995
The South Downs (1995 revised 2003)
Of all musical instruments the lower strings are probably my favourites. Indeed they are in my family: I am a bass player, my two daughters are cellists and hearing my mother’s cello practice is the earliest sound I recall as a child. In my own ensemble the strings are predominantly low – viola, cello and bass. This piece is the fourth in a series for solo instrument and accompaniment (piano and/or orchestra) in which each one has a title with a personal geographical connotation. The first, The Green Ray, for soprano saxophone, relates to western coasts (Scotland, North America); the second, The North Shore, for viola, refers to facing north from St. Hilda’s Abbey at Whitby; the third, for bass oboe, called The East Coast, alludes both to the east coast of Yorkshire and to the Bay of Fundy in Canada.
Those pieces, facing in opposite directions as it were, are in effect mirror images of each other, though coloured by the character of their implied location. Thus the bass oboe concerto is a cooler and more bleak version of The Green Ray, both being for reed instruments. With the two string pieces The North Shore’s implied austerity is balanced by the cello piece’s warmth. The area of the South Downs in question is, in fact, that around Birling Gap in Sussex, a location that means a great deal to me. The original verison of this piece was for cello and piano but this new version was specially written for my ensemble and is for solo cello, bass clarinet, electric guitar and double bass.