Commissioned by the Feinstein Quartet with financial assistance from the Holst Foundation

  • 15 min

Programme Note

Nocturnal was designed as a tribute to the composer and music-printer Edward Shipley (1941-88), and is a sequence of movements whose overall tone is reflected in the epigraph from Herman Melville's Moby Dick printed at the head of the score:

"Is it I, God, or who, that lifts this arm? But if the great sun move not of himself: nor one single star can revolve, but by some invisible power: how then can this one small heart beat; this one small brain think thoughts; unless God does that beating, does that thinking, and not I…

But it is a mild, mild wind, and a mild looking sky; and the air smells now, as if it blew from a far-away meadow; they have been making hay somewhere under the slopes of the Andes, Starbuck, and the mowers are sleeping among the new-mown hay. Sleeping? Aye, toil how we may, we all sleep at last on the field…"

Ted had a strong understanding of the sea, a deep sense of the numinous, and an innate reverence for the unseen forces which shape life: the music attempts in its own terms to express some like perceptions. The piece requires the flautist to play four different instruments: piccolo, concert flute, alto flute in G and bass flute in C.

The music uses them in something of a solo role, supported by percussion, double bass and piano, so that, in a linear as well as an ensemble context, Nocturnal, is a "quartet for flutes".

There are six sections:

  • I. Fuggevole, leggiero - a study of wind and wave, featuring flute.
  • II. Lento espressivo - an arioso for alto flute, with slow-moving but at times highly decorated textures.
  • III. Sognando - a dreamlike, almost motionless meditation for flute.
  • IV. Spiritoso - another study on the idea of "After the sea-ship, the whistling winds" (Whitman). This is for piccolo, fast and agile.
  • V. Oscuro, misterioso - Darkness, and the strange sound of the bass flute, like the call of some gigantic sea-bird.
  • VI. Quasi barcarola, teneramente - a sea-lullaby, whose sound drifts on the wind, now nearer, now farther away.