Instrumentation: clarinet (or violin), cello, piano
Duration: 13'
First performance: 20 June 2015: Mark Simpson (clarinet), Jean-Guihen Queyras (cello), Tamara Stefanovich (piano); Aldeburgh Festival, Britten Studio, Snape.

Commissioned by the Aldeburgh Festival

perusal score 

Visiones (after Goya)

On page 10 of the Goya sketchbook generally known as the Witches and Old Women album, there is an image captioned by a single word: 'Visiones'. An elderly couple dance, apparently suspended midair in an awkward embrace: his attention seems elsewhere; she may be picking his pocket. The pen-strokes are few, and the ink and wash technique makes the image seem as though momentarily conjured out of smoke. But without a doubt they are dancing, this strange couple, ready to step off the page, so alive is the penmanship. Peeking out from behind a fold of the lady's skirt or the man's cloak is a grinning face, all sunken eyes and wrinkled skin, laughing at – what? The dancers, the viewer, the world?

As I drew together materials for this clarinet trio, Goya's vision haunted my dreams. It's not the piece but it drew the piece into its orbit: three odd characters, bound together in dance. There is a kind of beauty there, I think, and elegance, and poise, and some sweet melancholy. But also obsession and violence and no way out. As I shaped the piece, these ideas shaped my thinking.

There are three sections:

#1: Cello and clarinet circle each other in repeated microtonal lyrics, while the piano, completely separate, taps out ecstatic pirouettes in the extreme upper register.

#2: A fragment of the lyric figure becomes something approaching a lullaby; the three instruments combine to create a single expanding harmonic texture, which, increasingly mechanical, gets stuck in irregular loops. The process repeats. Then repeats again.

#3: A distorted memory of what has gone before. The piano is now the melodic lead; the cello a crazed, fragmentary virtuoso, unable to find a 'pure' tone; the clarinet restricted to a simple pattern of soft multiphonics. The spinning dance intrudes, then overwhelms.