Commissioned by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Instrumentation: Chamber orchestra (18.104.22.168 - 22.214.171.124 - str)
First performance: 6 February 2014. Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Robin Ticciati (cond.)
Six Speechless Songs
The title comes from the final couplet of Shakespeare's Sonnet 8:
Whose speechless song being many, seeming one,
Sings this to thee: 'Thou single wilt prove none.'
Shakespeare is here celebrating the family unit, but it could be extended to the many voices of an orchestra. The lines appeal to me as a new father (my daughter was born while I was writing this piece) and allow me to link this birth-day with the SCO's birthday. As a violinist, I think of music most directly in terms of melody, and so a 'speechless song' for orchestra chimes with my musical instincts.
When Robin asked me to write a piece that was celebratory in nature, I had intended to write a single movement of great energy and excitement, but the clever formal schemes I had planned were preventing the diverse music I was writing from properly taking off. So instead I decided to write a sequence of short lyrical moments - birthday candles, perhaps, though six doesn't divide into forty so well - that would allow for a variety of celebratory gestures within a multi-movement piece: 'many, seeming one'. (Also, fortuitously, short drafts are potentially sketchable in baby's nap-time.)
One of the most fascinating aspects of music for me is how it is able to combine simultaneous disparate elements into a coherent whole - the magic of polyphony. Each of these miniatures explores a possible realisation of the many-voiced speechless song that Shakespeare invokes. Four 'songs' are energetic and lively in character: a fanfare unison, a collection of dance fragments, a peal of bells, and a brief melody floating within a flowing river. Two are more reflective: the central movement re-imagines a famous piobaireachd urlar, while the final is a hypnotic berceuse.