• Simon Holt
  • the other side of silence (2004)

  • Chester Music Ltd (World)

Commissioned by the Nash Ensemble

  • afl(picc), va, hp
  • 18 min

Programme Note

I began "the other side of silence" at the end of 2003 with the feeling that there was still something to be said about the plight of the eponymous "heroine" of my music-theatre piece "Who put Bella in the Wych elm?". There is a quote, at the beginning of "Unless" by Carol Shields, of an extract from Middlemarch, which contains this phrase:

"If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence."

"Bella" (for that was not her real name; her real name will never be known) was discovered stuffed in a Wych elm by four boys out bird’s-nesting in 1943, on the Hagley Hall estate in the Black Country. I felt when I read the Eliot quote that this was exactly where Bella now exists: on the other side of silence; a place where only mythical people can reside. It seems to me that the only thing separating the living and the dead is silence.

The piece is scored for Alto Flute (doubling Piccolo), Harp and Viola. The first movement is called "waiting for hummingbirds" (a quote from the music-theatre piece, as are all the movement titles), and is for the full compliment of 3 players. The music derives in part from the setting of these three words, and this movement is dedicated to my Mother at 71. The second movement: "the scratching twigs" is scored for Harp and Viola only. The Harp has a wildly extrovert part, whilst the Viola turns his back to the audience and plays spare, introverted phrases like somebody sleeping but with troubled dreams. The final movement is "sickle moon", and is scored for Viola solo. The music slowly wakens during the course of the piece. Distant piccolo notes are heard as the piece reaches its conclusion, as if from Bella herself. This movement is dedicated to Peter Maxwell Davies at 70, with much affection. The whole piece should last approximately 16 minutes.



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