• 2(pic)223/4330/timp.2perc/str
  • 20 min

Programme Note

Kenneth Leighton: Passacaglia, Chorale and Fugue

Completed in 1957.

The passacaglia theme has twelve different notes, but the music is not serial, and the note row is used as a theme not as a constructional basis.

Molto Lento - over the first three statements of the ground the strings enter fugally with a second theme, which is also varied and extended during the course of the movement. Another three variations produce a build-up, which leads directly into an Allegro. This begins with a new version of the opening string theme, and this is developed for a while before the ground re-appears against it on the brass. The fourths present in the ground break into a brass fanfare, and this in turn lead to an appassionato climax, where the strings declaim another varied version of the ground.

The music settles down into an extended tune for violins, this time a variation of the opening string theme. The ground appears again on the flute, and a final section (misterioso) on tremolando muted strings uses the ground strictly and fugally.

The striving mood of the Allegro gives way to the Chorale. The phrases of the chorale melody are presented on woodwind, horns, heavy brass in turn, alternating with soft fugal string passages, which use the twelve-note theme of movement I. A gradual crescendo takes place during the course of this, and at the end of the fourth phrase the strings break into a quaver figuration. Here the trombones enter with a phrase which foreshadows the last line of the hymn Ein Feste Burg - to be used in the final section of the work.

The chorale tune now continues quietly on woodwind and followed by a second exposition on strings, later joined by wind. The Fugue is in two main sections; the second of these (Presto) presents a new Counter-subject (derived from the subject), first on woodwind then on horns. The fugue culminates in a declaimed brass entry, a 'majorish' version of the subject.

The coda is in the manner of a chorale prelude on Ein Feste Burg. The tempo changes to 9/8 and a new version of the fugue subject appears on flute and bassoon. The chorale is presented against this, on brass, (in a quadruple time which sometimes outs across the basic 9/8 of the fugal theme). At the climax the brass continues with closing phrases (Amens) and the twelve note theme returns against this on strings and woodwind.

The Chorale is headed by Plebs angelica the first line of a medieval prayer to the Angelic Host. The music tries to transform the more 'human' striving of the Passacaglia into the calm and mystery of such a vision.

The fugue is headed by another medieval quotation:

"O truth of Christ
O most dear rarity
O most rare Charity
Where dwell'st thou now?"

the music has no 'programme' and there was no conscious attempt to express any specific ideas or feelings. But like my choral work The Light Invisible the music does perhaps contain the doubts, fears and questionings which so many feel in the face of religion; and as in the choral work, I wished to end with a positive statement. In The Light I used poetry of T. S. Eliot, set in the manner of a chorale. Here I used a traditional and much used hymn, attempting to set it directly against the chromatic nature of the fugal material.
© Kenneth Leighton