• Iain Bell
  • The Hidden Place (2009)

  • Chester Music Ltd (World)
  • 2+pic.2.2.2+cbn/2220/timp.glock/str(14.12.10.8.6)
  • Soprano
  • 14 min
  • Christa Palmer

Programme Note

Having composed various piano/vocal song-cycles for Diana Damrau, we agreed that the next step in our collaborative relationship would be to create an orchestral piece for her showcasing her coloristic and virtuosic strengths along with her sensitive treatment of text.

As coincidence would have it, at this same time I was spending a great deal of time with Diana’s aunt, Christa Palmer (who has lived in rural Buckinghamshire for over 30 years) and she happened to show me several poems she had written decades previously. One collection of poems was a personal depiction of intimate moments shared by two lovers throughout the four seasons and I immediately knew this was ripe for setting, so got to it.

I was determined to avoid cliché in my depictions of the seasons; this was not difficult as Christa had already subverted such clichés in her poems. In Spring, a lone voice cuts through a murky mist of sustained muted strings after which the shoots and leaves of a barren wintry landscape awaken, as as heard in the bustle of the violas and cellos also representing an increasing passionate yearning for a lover who is far away. This yearning swells to fever-pitch with the development of arpeggiated fanfares in the winds and a call-and-answer dialogue between the soprano and strings, building to a climax as she declares her love repeatedly, in various emotional guises ranging from orgiastic abandon to trepidation and fear. The song is capped-off with a final emotional surge via the development of the previously heard fanfares and percussion as she announces that her joy will give her wings to fly to the one who has her heart.

Summer is the most physically intimate of the four poems, recalling moments of carnal pleasure the couple shared. The vocal part is fleet with coloratura staccati recalling spine-tingling moments of ecstasy juxtaposed with languid, drawn out lyrical phrases of purring satisfaction. There is a impishness throughout the entire orchestral tissue portraying the mischief and imminence of such moments, painted with trills in the winds and punctuating harp and pitched percussion.

In Autumn, the mood cools and the dewy, burnished ochre of the leaves on the trees can immediately be felt in opening horn and harp ritornello, further deepening with the introduction of the cello obligato. It is an intimate confession of the precious moments our heroine spent with her love, such urges as explored in Summer are now only felt in the occasional rumblings of the brass and percussion. The rain-kissed landscape is illustrated in the passages of glockenspiel chimes, harp tremolos, meandering winds and high sustained strings. The song finally becomes a nostalgic reminiscing; the intimate, chamber textures remain but a feeling of loneliness now pervades as she sings of the fading of Summer into Autumn and goes on to recall these special meetings in the past tense.

Winter is a high-energy recollection of wild snow-fall fall upon the trees where our lovers spent intimate moments in warmer times. The harp, glockenspiel and strings are perpetually cascading down in rapid scalic passages and high sustained winds add a further iciness to the texture. Swelling low brass pedals lend a foreboding and danger, further adding to the feeling of mischief and adventure.

I.B.

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