for large orchestra (2016)
184.108.40.206 / 220.127.116.11 / timp. / 3 perc. / 2 hp. / 18.104.22.168.8
Commissioned by St Peter's Chamber Orchestra
World premiere: Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford, 18 February 2017. St Peter's Chamber Orchestra was conducted by John Warner.
Idyll-Cortège was composed as a musical preface to Mahler’s Symphony No. 6. Whilst planning the piece, it became clear to me that it would be pointless to compose a piece that might attempt to achieve the same degree of expressive nihilism as Mahler’s symphony, and thus the piece that emerged was rather more soft and autumnal in tone. Some features, however, from Mahler’s work do appear in my piece: the idea of a march is recurrent theme, as is the use of the bass drum. The chord with which Idyll-Cortège opens (which becomes a key sonority in the piece) is also reminiscent of the opening of ‘Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen' from the Rückert Lieder. I only noticed this similarity some time after having begun work on Idyll-Cortège, but the comparison is useful as the two pieces inhabit a similar expressive realm.
I would also like to quote two sections from Alma Mahler’s diaries as they provide an apt way to describe the two contrasting expressive characters found
in the piece.
‘It was a day of wintry sunshine. Every twig was coated with ice. When we got right up to the Falls and then beneath them by means of the elevator, the
strength of the greenish light hurt our eyes. The thunder of the water beneath the roof of ice, the trees mantled far and wide in frozen foam, and the
distant view over the snow-covered plain all had a dreamlike beauty.’
‘Hearing a confused noise, we leaned out of the window and saw a long procession in the broad street along the side of Central Park. It was the funeral
cortege of a fireman. [...] There was a brief pause and then a roll of muffled drums, followed by a dead silence. The procession then moved forward
and all was over. The scene brought tears to my eyes and I looked anxiously at Mahler’s window. But he too was leaning out and his face was streaming
Alma Mahler, Gustav Maher: Memories and Letters, (Seattle: University of Washington Press), 1968.
I am grateful to Josie Perry for providing the cover imagery.