• vn + sngngbwl[crot]/str
  • Violin
  • 22 min

Programme Note

In early 2008, the violinist Tasmin Little rang me to ask whether I’d write a series of short pieces for her, accompanied by chamber orchestra. At the time she was artistic director of the Orchestra of the Swan’s Spring Sounds Festival and wanted something suitably festive and appealing to the event’s eclectic audience. Considering a world where global concern for climate change and seismic shifts in international political landscapes affect us all, we decided to take Antonio Vivaldi’s much-loved 1725 Four Seasons and give the concept a 21st century twist, creating an entirely new work with each season (lasting approximately 5 minutes) influenced by a country that has become culturally associated with it.

Sadly, incompatible dairies meant that Autumn couldn’t happen with the Orchestra of the Swan – but the London Mozart Players (with whom I had just been appointed Associate Composer) climbed on board!

I Autumn in Albania
Autumn is a vitally important season in Albania – not just agriculturally, but also because it is full of religious (Muslim and Christian), cultural and historical celebrations.

Tasmin suggested a dance and the Albanian choreographer Tomorr Kokona introduced me to the famous “Dance of Chimes” from central Albania, which is often played at weddings. The funky rhythm sweeps us along initially in quite a carefree manner, but with bittersweet harmonies illustrating the conflicts that have bubbled away beneath the country’s political surface.

However, the strength of Albanian spirit triumphs and a short cadenza, at first in harmonics (imitating the Lahutah, a 1 or 2 string fiddle of Northern Albania), winds down the heat of the dance and leads into a quieter section, as the season moves towards its darker and colder end.

Several years ago, my Kosovan friend, Arben Koljci, lent me a CD of Albanian folk violin music (played by Shkelzen Doli) and I fell in love with the second track, a plaintive love song from the southern city of Vlora. This stunning melody immediately conjures up autumn – its sad beauty, incorporating highly ornate trills and turns, reminded me of falling leaves, swirling before they reach the ground.

II Tibetan Winter
This movement is based on a beautiful Tibetan love-song, that has been sung for centuries in many different ways. I first heard a “folk opera” version, sung exquisitely by a popular singer, Namgyal Lhamo, in a softer, more romanticized, rubato (and some would say “westernized”) way. Then I heard a more traditional performance by a Tibetan nomad from the East of the country – complete with frequent glottal stops (translated to the violin into grace notes) and brief bursts of tremelo at the start of longer notes. I have used both of these versions as they both have their individual appeal – and the rawness of the nomad version enhances the trembling chill of a Tibetan Winter.

III Spring in Japan
This music is all about the precipitation and anticipation of Spring, starting with one bud shooting up through the ground and eventually bursting into a myriad of petals and the glorious cherry blossoms of Japan. Its nationality is signified by the use of the Japanese “in” mode, which is fundamentally pentatonic. Birdsong also appears – the song of the Japanese Bush Warbler, which is prevalent in Spring. The piece starts very low and quiet, as the first hints of new life appears and ends very high and jubilant after a build up of exploding blossom and a cacophony of birdsong!

IV Indian Summer
When deliberating where to go for our Summer movement in 2010, someone suggested, tongue-in-cheek, that we should go for an Indian one. It’s using poetic licence, of course, as “Indian Summer” is often used to describe an uncharacteristically warm UK autumn – but the intense warmth and colour of India seemed perfect to depict this time of year. Over a double-bass drone, the solo violin plays the main theme in the sweeping portamento (sliding) style of traditional Northern Indian violin. Slightly Bhangra-ized tabla (Indian drums) rhythms and four Northern Indian modes (Kalyan, Marva, Purvi and Kafi) are used to evoke the kaleidoscopic hues and vivacity of this stunning subcontinent.

Three of the Four World Seasons are dedicated to Tasmin, however Autumn in Albania is dedicated to my father, Andrzej Panufnik, who was born, loved and died in this season.

Roxanna Panufnik, 17th January 2012

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