• Thea Musgrave
  • From Darkness into the Light (2017)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)

Commissioned by Dr. Pamela Ashurst in memory of her husband Ron Ashurst for their dear friend cellist Josephine Knight

Soloist exclusivity granted to cellist Jospehine Knight until February 2020

  • 2(pic)2(ca)11/2000/perc/str(54321)
  • cello
  • 21 min

Programme Note

From Darkness into the Light: a contemplation is a reworking of Journey into Light (2005) and in this new form is written specially for the cellist Josephine Knight. This work is commissioned by Dr. Pamela Ashurst who was present at the world premiere of Journey into Light in Southampton.

Everything about this new piece has been unusual and exciting for me. When Dr. Ashurst approached me to write a work for the excellent British cellist Josephine Knight, she explained that she was seriously ill but that she wanted to commission a work “to add something beautiful to the classical musical canon” she loved so much. She then explained that she and her late husband had attended the premiere of Journey into Light in 2006 and had been very
moved by it. This request certainly grabbed my attention and, though I felt a little daunted, I couldn’t resist dropping everything and starting to explore some ideas right away!

I have several times reworked my compositions, but it has always been to re-orchestrate rather than to create something entirely different. But From Darkness into the Light– though closely based on Journey into Light – is quite new, a state necessitated by the absence of the voice. In its place the unique properties of the cello, together with the addition of a clarinet and percussion to the orchestra, have taken the piece and its ideas in a different direction.

In the original work the “darkness” refers to hell, and the “light” is the light of salvation. These ideas are drawn from one anonymous fifteenth-century poem and two others by the Scottish poet William Dunbar (1460?-1513?). In his poems, Dunbar describes the promise of salvation after life’s dark passage, while each of the three poems set echoes
the thought that the poet can overcome the fear of his inevitable death with the certainty of salvation. This previous work also has its “dark” moments, but the overall mood is one of calmness and peace. It seemed to me that in my new work the “darkness” could represent ANY of those dark, frightening moments that all of us face from time to time and that, in life, those moments have to be confronted and come to terms with, before peace and well-being can
be restored.

In both works there are three sections and in each section an important musical theme is introduced: in the first section a dark theme that originally accompanied the words “Terribilis mors conturbat me”, in the second section the famous medieval chant “Dies Irae”about the Day of Judgement, and in the third section, the theme accompanying the words “Since endly joy abidès never, Work for the joy that lastès ever”.

What changes the feeling of the whole work is not just the fact of a different colour of the solo cello, but the dramatic way I wanted to use it in the three cadenzas which I have added.

The first cadenza led by the cello is mostly dark and brooding: it links the first two sections. Here the clarinet, which has not sounded a single note thus far, adds a low E-natural. This eventually leads to the cello “inviting” the clarinet to join in with its voice in the next section, thus giving another colour to the dark implications of the “Dies Irae”

In the second cadenza which links the second and third sections the cello introduces a new light-hearted figure which the oboes will embrace in the third section. The third section becomes more and more confrontational as the themes mentioned above all reappear in counterpoint to the oboes. But the “Dies Irae” now always played by the horns takes a central position – each of its
three phrases becoming more urgent, more insistent. In response the cello becomes more and more agitated, even angry. The third and final cadenza is the culmination of this confrontation between the cello and the antagonistic and challenging horns. The cello, however, confronts their outburst in a serious, thoughtful, but above all, calm way. This calm response allows the dialogue to be restored and a peaceful coda ensues resolving into a “luminous” final cadence.

Thea Musgrave