• Christopher Brown
  • Triptych (1978)

  • Chester Music Ltd (World)
  • 3(pic).2+ca.3(Ebcl:bcl).2+cbn4331timp.6perchp.pf(cel).[org]str
  • 34 min

Programme Note

TRIPTYCH - Three Symphonic Pieces after Dürer,
Op 47 Adagio molto - allegro molto con energia
Allegro molto ed un poco misterioso
Theme and variations

Ever since my early teens I have been fascinated by the extraordinary wealth and range of Dürer's art. In particular, it is the simplicity of the watercolours and the amazing technical and expressive mastery of the woodcuts and engravings that have held an especial attraction for me, rather than the grander and perhaps more famous oil paintings.

It was in 1962, while visiting Germany and seeing some of the originals for the first time, that I had the idea of using Dürer's work as the starting point for an orchestral piece, but it was not until last year (1977), when I received a Feeney Trust commission, that the project was able to come to fruition, even though I had several times sketched ideas during the intervening years.

Originally I had conceived of a direct relationship between a particular picture and music which would 'illustrate' it in an almost programmatic way. However, on further reflection, I decided to use a number of pictures purely as the emotional inspiration and point of departure of an independent musical work without any specific connection with those pictures. In other words, once the pictorial stimulus had set the musical arguments in motion, it was musical considerations alone which determined the logical outcome of the work. It is for this reason that I have not indicated in any way which pictures were uppermost in my mind whilst composing the work.

The title 'Triptych' refers not only to the three-movement structure, but also to the fact that each movement is complete in itself, and yet at the same time is only part of a larger whole in which common themes are studied from different viewpoints, rather as the wings compliment the central panel of a pictorial triptych. That central panel is also the focal point of a triptych, and it is to there that the eye is first drawn; so in this work the largest movement, and the one from which the others draw their material, is the first. It is roughly symmetrical in shape; an extended slow introduction which reappears in abridged form at the end, with two fast and increasingly dramatic sections flanking a slow and contemplative middle section to form the bulk of the movement.

In the second movement, the orchestra is divided into two halves; flutes, clarinets, muted trumpets, percussion, celesta and strings (without double basses) in the first orchestra, and piccolo, oboe, cor anglais, bassoons, horn, harp and 12 solo strings (including double basses) in the second. The former is always associated with fast and rather elusive music with something of a scherzo character to it, while the latter has generally slower and more reflective material. Only towards the end of the movement do the two elements combine.

In the Finale, each section of the orchestra is featured in turn in a Theme and Variations, culminating in a variation in which the material of the previous four is combined, at the climax of which there is a brief reference to Martin Luther's great chorale 'Ein feste Burg'. A brief reminder of the introduction to the first movement is heard on the oboe and the work ends with a massive outburst of sound from the whole orchestra.

By a happy coincidence, TRIPTYCH was completed on Dürer's birthday (21 May) in this (1978) the 450th anniversary of his death in April 1528.

TRIPTYCH was commissioned by the Feeney Trust.

The first performance was given on 7 December 1978 in the Town Hall, Birmingham, by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra conducted by Vernon Handley.