• ob/pf
  • Tenor
  • 8 min

Programme Note

Last year I wrote a Cantata on poems by the great German poet Hölderlin for counter-tenor, tenor and piano. When Syrinx of London commissioned a work from me, I decided to compose a companion piece and turned to a complementary poet, Rimbaud. Instead of Hölderlin's essentially German, searching and tortured sentiments, Rimbaud displays a typically French ear for the pure sounds of words combined with often obscure and sensuous imagery.

CANTATA NO.2 is not an extended song; it is a work for three performers, one of whom happens to be a singer. This approach to the composition of the pieces means that the musical material is of equal importance in all three parts, the oboe and piano sharing several passages alone without the voice. During the piece there is a continual interplay of contrapuntal lines combined with a very definite harmonic background which, as the opening, is actually foreground in many passages. The music attempts to mirror Rimbaud's continuously changing and bewildering images and to catch the magical world which the poet has created, somewhere between a waling dream and true reality. The work sets out from the note D and proceeds from one chord which contains various important intervals; during the first interlude for oboe and piano there is a continuously sounding 'A' in the piano figuration, acting as a dominant pedal-point, and the second interlude gradually rises until it arrives at a double-octave 'D' before the opening is recapitulated but this time with the voice as well. The work ends with a variant of the chord from which it set out.

The first performance of CANTATA NO.2 took place on 14 July 1980 at the Wigmore Hall, London. Syrinx of London, who gave the first performance, commissioned the work with funds provided by the Arts Council of Great Britain.

© Robert Saxton