• Michael Nyman
  • Violin Concerto (2003)

  • Chester Music Ltd (World)
  • 2+pic.2.2+bcl.2+cbn4.2(flg,pictpt).1+btbn.1vib.mbahpstr
  • violin
  • 25 min

Programme Note

A possible title, or subtitle, for this Concerto would be, or could have been, 'Contact Sheet' ('Kontaktabzug'), since the image and structural principle of the sheet of (unprocessed, straight off the printer) frames on a photographic contact sheet was one of the starting points for the composition of this work. The limits of the frame are important - since the Violin Concerto is literally (but with one category of exceptions) a sequence of 'framed' sections, each precisely calculated to last one minute only. By eliminating the danger of the discursive, this tight formality allows me, on the one hand, to create and articulate a series of self-contained, generally unrelated, musical 'images', and on the other hand to observe the different ways of experiencing the same 'quantity' of passing time. (Following the principle of John Cage's ‘Indeterminacy' lecture where the pace of his stories is adjusted to fill the time available).

Interpolated within this one-minute-one-movement layout is a recurrent refrain where the soloist articulates one of the basic harmonic foundations of a number of the one minute sections (six dominant 7ths - on E, F sharp, C, A, B, D) in an undisguised Bachian fashion. The slow arpeggios in the later variants of the refrain not unexpectedly find themselves sharing a bed with the opening of Berg's Violin Concerto. (Can an orchestration be considered to be a 'found object'? I have adopted Berg's orchestra, with two exceptions - I have omitted the alto sax, too often associated with my music but not with his, and replaced Berg's percussion section with marimba and vibraphone, mallet instruments which enjoy a particularly cosy relationship with the soloist in my Concerto). My initial compositional plan was the juxtaposition of the contradictory; but while I was orchestrating I found myself indulging in the process of, so to speak, 'hand tinting' my one minute 'frames' so as to create connections where initially there were none. And in the organising of these images I was aware of the fact that when taking photographs one generally takes a number of shots of the same subject before moving on to the next. That kind of 'bracketing' plays no part in the layout of my musical contact sheet although occasionally an 'early' image reappears as a 'late' image and tempi are sometimes bracketed as follows:

1. Waltz 1: crotchet = 66
2. crotchet = 52
[Refrain 1]
3. crotchet = 88
4. crotchet = 129
5. crotchet = 129 (solo reference to section 4)
[Refrain 2]
6. crotchet = 139
7. crotchet = 144
8. crotchet = 144
9. Waltz 2: crotchet = 156
[Refrain 3]
10. crotchet = 120
11. crotchet = 80
12. crotchet = 120
13. crotchet = 48
14. crotchet = 120 (= section 3)
[Refrain 4]
15. crotchet = 120 (= section 10)
16. crotchet = 108
17. crotchet = 156 (=section 8)
18. crotchet = 52 (= section 2)

Alban Berg's Violin Concerto was dedicated to "the memory of an angel", Manon Gropius. My Concerto is dedicated to the memory of Daniel Toscan du Plantier, a friend and neighbour - certainly no angel but a major figure in the recording and film industries. And, it goes without saying, that I thank Gidon Kremer for his inspirational playing and musicianship.

The Violin Concerto was commissioned by Stiftung Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival. It was first performed by Gidon Kremer (violin) and the Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival Orchester conducted by Dennis Russell Davies at the Musikhalle, Hamburg, Germany on 29 August 2003.

© Michael Nyman 2003

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