Commissioned by the BBC and first performed in City Halls, Glasgow, by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Donald Runnicles on 7 April 2011.

  • 1+afl.2.1+bcl.2/4221/timp.perc/str
  • 12 min

Programme Note

When I was asked to write a 'companion-piece' to Brahms's Symphony No.2, the first thought I had was that I didn't want to disrupt the audience's appreciation of this most carefree and joyful of Brahms's symphonies by making unnecessary musical references and quotations - in short, I wanted to leave it well alone! However, Gravity does have its origins in my impressions of the larger piece: in particular the way in which Brahms flits and dissolves between groupings of instruments, leading the ear around the orchestra. We hear this in the first few minutes of the symphony, and again in the third movement, which also has some very subtle and clever rhythmic transitions - which we might nowadays call metric modulations.

In Gravity I've taken this idea of overlapping sections of the orchestra and combining them, sometimes in unusual ways - for example near the beginning where the low woodwind and strings are at the top of their range and the upper woodwind enter at the bottom of theirs. In the first half of the piece the main focus shifts from one group to another, in a kind of tour of the orchestra. Sections are overlapped so that it might take a little time for each new element to be recognised as the 'main voice', by which time a new layer has often begun to weave its way into the texture. The groupings get bigger and stay in focus for longer until a kind of stability is reached, which culminates in a passage of ascending string figures that brings the first half to a close.

The second half takes almost the opposite approach, following a single long viola line which is then passed to the violins and finally the trumpets as it builds upwards, gathering ever more instruments and activity into counterpoint with it (in the form of what I call chord-melodies) until the texture breaks up into low brass and percussion outbursts. The second half finishes in a similar way to the first half - though now the material and its effect are transformed into something quite different, I think.

While I was writing the piece it seemed to me that all its materials and directions were held together and balanced by invisible threads or forces, without which they would spin off in different directions - hence the title, Gravity.

© Stuart MacRae