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5

Only Connect

for Orchestra

Composed: Durham, January-June 1988

Revised: Cambridge, 1991

Performed: i) Durham University Chamber Orchestra, June 18th 1988

conducted by Margeret Gibson

ii) (Revised version)

BBC Symphony Orchestra, (broadcast: February 1992)

conducted by Robert Ziegler (recording included)

5.1 Introduction

Only Connect was originally written for the Durham University Chamber Orchestra, the composition of which explains a couple of rather odd features of the instrumental set-up, (for instance, the first flute rather than the second doubles piccolo - only the first flute in the orchestra had a piccolo; also, the original percussion parts were rather oddly divided as they had to fit in with only two skilled percussionists available).

The title is the epigram of E.M.Forster's book Howards End, but if a work of Forster's could be said to influence the piece at all it would be A Passage to India, a book about the attempted links between diverse peoples and the individuals' relationship to the whole. However, the title was not decided upon until well into the composition of the piece, and so neither book played any part in its conception.

One of the original ideas was for a series of fugues for orchestra and a number of solo instruments, (basically, the principals of each instrument (flute/piccolo, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, violin, hence the solo violin). Although a set of instrumental soli remain, the element of fugue has gone.

Another early idea that remains in the present score. This came from hearing a radio broadcast of Vaclav Havel's play Largo Desolato, in the translation by Tom Stoppard. The play has many features which can be related to music, quite possibly consciously, and these features give the play an unreal air, rather as if the characters were actually performing a slow, tragicomic dance. Blocks of text repeat, slightly altered in differing circumstances, rather in the way that block type music is composed. One feels that when these blocks recur one is sliding into a nightmarish spiral from which escape is impossible.

The aspect of the play's performance which influenced Only Connect is a structural device. Each of the seven scenes of the play are separated by a short musical interlude, the music being defined in the text only as 'impressive orchestral music'. In fact, the first three scenes comprise only the following actions:

 

SCENE ONE

As the music dies away the curtain rises slowly.

LEOPOLD is alone on the stage. He is sitting on the sofa and staring at the front door. After a long pause he gets up and looks through the peep-hole. Then he puts his ear to the door and listens intently. After another long pause the curtain drops suddenly and at the same time the music returns.

 

SCENE TWO

As the music dies away the curtain rises slowly.

LEOPOLD is alone on the stage. He is sitting on the sofa and staring at the front door. After a long pause he gets up and looks through the peep-hole. Then he puts his ear to the door and listens intently. After another long pause the curtain drops suddenly and at the same time the music returns.

 

SCENE THREE

As the music dies away the curtain rises slowly.

LEOPOLD is alone on the stage. He is sitting on the sofa and staring at the front door. After a long pause he gets up and looks through the peep-hole. Then he puts his ear to the door and listens intently. He evidently hears something which makes him jump back...

 

This seemed (and seems) to me an extraordinarily effective and uniquely powerful opening, given suitable music. The contrast between the 'impressive music' (as I 'heard' it - not the music used during the broadcast), and the silence with the nervous reactions of the isolated figure, in addition to the dramatic action of the curtain, formally isolating the figure seemed an excellent way of opening a piece and giving a powerful image and reference point. Finally, it also shared with a number of my pieces the same form of three similar gestures alternating with a contrasting idea.

In actual fact, this precise idea was lost in the final piece - the present opening is not 'incidental music' - but the remnants are there: the tutti passages followed by solo instrumental passages.

 

5.2 Analysis and Compositional Methods

Like other pieces of mine, the material is worked out in 'single movement form': a form that combines continuous development with a more traditional, almost sonata type approach (see above). The 'continuous development' works out in what might be called a sort of 'spiral'. Material grows from a fragment through expanded repetition.

There are three 'groups' of material in Only Connect.

5.2.1 First Group



The piece begins with a 'gong' stroke chord, (ex 5:1) . This chord occurs at various other important structural moments in the piece. From this emerges the two part phrase (ex 5:2) , split between solo violin and viola. The phrase ends with 'echoing' chords on low brass and woodwind, and the same 'throwaway' scale that I have used in both Scena and Through the Sharp Hawthorn (see ex 1:40-1:57). Using the verse/chorus terminology, if this is the verse, the small percussion interlude that follows is the first 'chorus', (i.e., a contrasting, yet balancing phrase that will, ultimately, form the dissonance/resolution dynamic of the piece.

Ex 5:2 is typical of this material: its contour is chromatic, (the upper melody line), and yet it is harmonized in a deliberately 'diatonic' manner: fourths, major seconds and minor sevenths - 'soft' intervals. This is an attempt at a certain ambiguity: another level of dissonance/resolution to be worked out.

The following phrase, (ex 5:3), is the second 'turn' of the spiral: the phrase 'grows' in terms of the number of parts, (three solo strings), and the pitch of the melody is slightly higher. However, it utilizes the same claustrophobic chromatic line, and is again balanced by the same, only more developed, fourth/second near homophony. Again, it is answered by low chords and a percussion 'chorus'.

The third phrase, (ex 5:4) is in four parts, and continues the chromatic line/diatonic harmony balance until, rather as the harmonic rhythm rapidly speeds up towards a main cadence in a classical piece, the rate of pitch change increases rapidly, and the texture 'explodes' into a large, ten-part chord. As this chord fades, the solo violin is left, hanging alone until it too falls away, marking, with the final percussion chorus, the end of this first group.

5.2.2 Second Group

The second group begins with a long, sustained oboe tone, which gradually picks up 'interference', in the form of small, chromatic grace-notes circling the central pitch (ex 5:6). In contrast to the verse/chorus approach of the first group, this music develops more continuously, the F# acting as a catalyst to the rest of the orchestra's resonator. The 'harmonics' gather, growing in strength, until a trumpet takes up the note and broadens it into the main melody of this group, (ex 1:17)

.
This melody is taken from Through the Sharp Hawthorn
(bar 1, flute), although with modified rhythm. If the oboe's F# (ex 5:6) generates other 'harmonics', this melody generates other melodies, and in contrast to the homophony of the First Group's verse, this melody is surrounded by heterophonic versions of the same in the other solo instruments. The trumpet melody generates three further, each growing in pitch range and harmonic dynamism. They are (ex 5:7)
for flute, (with homophonic bassoon), (ex 5:8) for oboe, with homophonic woodwind, (with melodic decoration), and (ex 5:9) for solo violin and strings. The violin line is the most wild, reaching the highest pitch in the piece up until this point, before succumbing to the cadence signalling falling idea, marking the conclusion of the Second Group.

5.2.3 First Group Recapitulation (b57-70)

A repeat of the opening sixteen bars, melodically and instrumentationally expanded, (see the three chords, ex 5:10 - a,b&c).

5.2.4 Transition (b70-87)

The third group, rather than being an entirely separate entity, is a combination of new material and development. Because of this there is an ambiguity in the structure - it is neither introduction nor 'allegro': the semiquaver movement pre-empts the quavers of the allegro (as the material itself does) , but the mood is from the introduction.

In this section the melodic material of ex 5:6-5:9 & esp 1:17 is rhythmicised, see ex 1:19 . This primarily consists of converting, for example, a sustained crotchet into four staccato semi-quavers, or the equivalent, (ex 1:19, 1:28 & 1:29). An important additional figure is added, the rising 'throw-away' figure, (1:28a), further rhythmicised at ex 1:29a & b & 1:30, which acts as a form of punctuation mark. It is itself a development of the phrase ending at ex 5:4. These figures are also, incidentally, derived from Through the Sharp Hawthorn....(ex 1:23-1:26). After the piccolo, a solo oboe and clarinet 'pre-echo' other aspects of the forthcoming allegro.

5.2.5 Allegro

The allegro represents the B part of the one-movement form structure. There is very little new material here, but existing material is manipulated in a variety of ways: in general, the opening melodic material is transformed chronologically: the melodic material mostly stemming from the melody of ex 1:17, put into the light of the allegro tempo and the more lively transition material, (see above). The basic shape of this part is the build up of momentum into a tutti version of the opening (ex 5:2, 5:3, 5:4), now spread over the entire range of the orchestra (ex 5:15) and the fanfares at figure 29 (ex 5:16). The fanfares, too, are based on ex 1:17 , but are now transformed into broken rhythmic fragments from which explode a concatenation of 'transition' figures (ex 1:32), now variously on full brass.

 

5.2.6 'Recapitulation' and Coda

Section A' of the one-movement form follows, in other words an abbreviated and transformed recapitulation, now based solely around the melody of ex 1:17 and extensions. Here, the harmonically slow moving music is contrasted with faster figuration in the bass. Following a protracted climax, a lengthy coda ensues. As mentioned in the Introduction above, the recapitulation and coda do not include repeats of earlier material, but transformations. During the coda, the three gestures that open the piece are repeated at figure 40, but the order of three is reversed and in the bass of the orchestra. The piece ends with a plethora of 'tiny' fanfares (ex 1:33) in each of the solo instruments, mirroring the more explosive end to the development when the same material was performed fortissimmo by the brass (ex 1:32) .

 

5.3 Local, Global & Meta-Global

Only Connect represents the end of a line of certain ideas. From the contours of the Sextet through Scena and Through the Sharp Hawthorn there are similar ideas, mentioned in each of the above chapters. These ideas reach their conclusions here. Ex 1:1 - 1:22 provide a list if versions of three of the main ideas running through these pieces. The first is the melodic contour which appears in all the pieces. The second, the highly rhythmic, syncopated figure (ex 1:23 - 1:33) , originated in Through the Sharp Hawthorn and progressed to Only Connect. Extra-musically, it is very probable that this change can be related to the move I made to Charterhouse soon after the piece was finished. Finally, the 'throw-away' figure which first appeared in Scena and plays the role of a codetta figure (whether of a line, a section or a piece) is last heard on the last page of Only Connect in the bass, (ex 1:40 - 1:57)

Presumably, these ideas had run their course in Only Connect. Not only do they not occur after that piece, but there are fewer ideas of a similar type. The one exception to this is the oboe melody from Shilbottle Cobbles, (figure 4).

 

5.4 Influences

There are a number of influences, usually for specific ideas or sounds rather than in general. As usual with most of my pieces, it is in a very broad sonata form, only with the 'recapitulation' replaced by a second development and lengthy coda. The 'idea' of the instrumental soli in the 'introduction' is from Birtwistle's Verses for Ensembles. Indeed that composer's Triumph of Time was much in my mind throughout the writing of the piece: we had studied it during the first 'MA' year of the course. There are three fairly direct influences of that piece here: the three statements of the woodwind choir from figure 26, the return of the main theme high in the strings, etc, with accompanying 'rumbles' in the bass at figure 34, and the use of a 'mask of strings covering the texture during the coda (from figure 36 +10).

 

5.5 Judgement

Only Connect represents the end of a certain phase of pieces within this portfolio. Following the piece, the type of material, and indeed the style changed quite substantially, (with the possible exception of Shilbottle Cobbles). The piece also offered me an opportunity to judge it at first hand from a distance - I was fortunate to have had a performance by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, although some three years after the piece was originally completed. While it was enjoyable to have such a good performance, it was also rather frustrating because some of the language used was rather 'old' and immature. The chords at the opening, the over-use of detail and the mis-handled orchestration in parts of the introduction let the piece down, and the opening of the allegro sounds rather limp. However, the structure remains substantially satisfactory, and overall, I feel that the piece still works quite well.