Commissioned by the Yale University Summer School of Music

  • 2.1+ca.2.2/2220/perc/str split into 5 groups
  • 14 min

Programme Note

ANTIPHONIES was commissioned by the Yale University Summer School of Music, and first performed at Norfolk, Conn., USA, on 10 August 1966. As its title implies, the piece emphasizes the spatial distribution of the forces used; the five differently constituted instrumental groups state, comment upon, answer, and contradict one another’s material in a concertante manner.

The five main sections of the work treat the principles of antiphony in contrasting ways. The opening Lento, which is concerned with broad masses of sound periodically interrupted by more active material, sets out the characteristic timbres of the groups; it reappears several times in the course of the work. Energico, a quick movement which follows without a break, assembles and disperses, often in polyrhythmic ostinati, a number of fragmentary and explosive patterns, before disintegrating into slow chordal music reminiscent of the opening. A close-textured section now follows, Grazioso, in which the ensembles blend together much of the time. The Lento reappears briefly, leading to Spiritoso, in which the concertante implications of the previous sections are articulated in the parts for the two string ensembles. The final Lento resumes the character of the opening by way of a series of cadenza-like outbursts for winds and percussion, and the massed sounds of the various groups are transformed and finally dispersed.

Constitution and placing of the Groups

The form of the orchestration was designed to reflect the character of the auditorium at Norfolk, Conn., with its galleries and unusual spatial relationships; to ensure maximum separation of the ensembles the string parts were performed by single players. However, for other halls the ideal balance is perhaps that of a normal classical orchestra with double wind and 12-10-8-6-4 strings. Thus group A would have 10 violins and 8 violas, and group E 12 violins, 6 cellos, and 4 double basses.

The percussion parts may be taken by only two players, one each in groups C and D, but four may be used to advantage, two timpanists with two other players for the remaining instruments. Chromatic timpani are required, and each of the two groups of timpani need instruments capable of reaching the high A. The concertante role assigned to the percussion calls for the two groups to be as widely separated as may be practicable even if they have to be relatively isolated from their instrumental companions in a groups C and D. In fact, they almost form sub-groups of their own in relation to the five principal ensembles.

Groups C and D, which have somewhat similar instrumentation, also need for that reason to be well separated one from another, as do the string froups A and E. To assist in contrasting the string groups, the players in group A might play standing while those in E remain seated; or they may be placed on either side of the conductor at the front of the platform in the conventional way. In any event, the only criterion for placing the groups is that maximum separation should be combined with proper balance, so that none predominates over others in any other ways than those prescribed by the music itself.

© Justin Connolly