• Kenneth Leighton
  • Martyrs (1976)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)

Commissioned by the Organ Club for its 50th anniversary

  • Organ Duet
  • 12 min

Programme Note

Kenneth Leighton: Martyrs

Kenneth Leighton has made a distinguished contribution to almost every genre of music. Having studied Classics and Music at Oxford, he won the Mendelssohn Scholarship in 1951 to study with Petrassi. Since then he has won many prizes both here and abroad, and since 1970 has been Reid Professor of Music at Edinburgh University.

His works always show his own individual voice, whilst being rooted in the mainstream European traditions of Stravinsky, Bartók and Hindemith. He has also worked with 12-note technique, showing Byrd and Dallapiccola as influences, rather than being a stricter Schoenbergian disciple.

Martyrs though, is tonal, and shows Leighton's gift for building up large structures from slow, often tortuous beginnings, and his great ability to control and build the rhythmic and contrapuntal development of his works. Here he maintains the thrust and tension of the closely worked thematic arguments, right into the final statement of the theme. The piece was commissioned by the Organ Club of Great Britain, with assistance from the Arts Council, for its Golden Jubilee, and was given its first performance by Nicholas and Stephen Cleobury in Westminster Abbey in July, 1976. Kenneth Leighton then provided this short note:

'Martyrs is the greatest of the Scottish Psalm-tunes, possibly Dorian and rock-like in quality. I first used it in Laudes Montium, a full-scale work composed for the centenary of the St Andrews University Musical Society, but I felt that more could be done with it, and this work is the result.

There are two main sections, the first slow and based on a chromatic and 'narrowed' version of the tune. Both section build up to an impassioned climax, but in the second part the speed is increased and the culmination consists of a complete statement of the original melody.'
© 1981 Nicholas Cleobury