• Barry Guy
  • Buzz (1994)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)

Commissioned by the South Bank Centre as part of its Purcell Tercentenary Festival

  • Consort of viols: 2 treble, 2 tenor, 1 bass
  • 6 min

Programme Note

No pastiche", I wrote at the beginning of the manuscript. However BUZZ is a reflection on Purcell's Fantazia Upon One Note. Performance and study of Purcell's music suggested a particular approach, so for instance there is a constant re-statement of a gradually expanding note complex, a slow recurring chorale and rapid flourishes in the lower instruments culminating in a complex array of harmonics. These three elements meet in a shifting scenario - sometimes elevated, sometimes partly hidden, often equal.

Although the title is taken from an instruction in the piece where players make a string vibrate in a special way, BUZZ also suggests a sense of excitement, urgency and energy.

The "Buzz" emanates from an articulation by the late jazz bassist Charles Mingus where the string was pulled around the side of the fingerboard and plucked to produce a very special buzzing sound. The precedent for unusual sonorities had already been set by H.I.F. Biber in the 17th century who formulated a similar sound, instructing the bassist to place parchment between the strings and to beat the string in the manner of a drum roll.

BUZZ is specifically written for the viol consort rather than a "string" ensemble. Harmonics used are appropriate to the chosen formation, and the arpeggiated chord of 32 pitches before the "Buzz" is only possible with the chosen consort of two trebles, two tenors and bass viol.

With the foregoing in mind, the activity of interchanging materials against a slower more archaic articulation perhaps suggests the passing on of Purcell's musical message to the present day.

BUZZ was commissioned as part of the South Bank Centre's Purcell tercentenary celebrations, and first performed by Fretwork at the Purcell Room on 7th March 1995.

© Barry Guy

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