• John McCabe
  • Double Concerto (1988)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)
  • 2222/2200/timp/str
  • oboe, clarinet
  • 20 min

Programme Note

Largo - Vivo - Andante - Allegro - Lento - Allegro deciso - Lento

This work was commissioned by English Heritage, for their open-air summer concerts, and was written during 1987/8 for the soloists Nicholas Daniel and Joy Farrall, who gave the first performance with Nicholas Cleobury and the London Mozart Players at Kenwood in 1988. The original idea for the piece actually came before the commission, namely the composition of a work for this kind of orchestra based on a phrase from Erik Satie's incidental music to the play
Le Fils des √Čtoiles (The Son of the Stars). the Prelude to Act 1 (part of my own repertoire as a pianist). The whole concerto, therefore, is a kind of free fantasy on a simple phrase of four notes followed by two chords, heard in the full orchestra in something like its original state only as the climax to the Lento preceding the final quick movement.

It is also, however, a genuine concerto, and what is more a genuine Double Concerto, since the two soloists nearly always play together, exchanging their musical ideas and characters instead of alternating a good deal of the time (as usually happens in double concertos) - even their frequent cadenza sections are almost all "double" cadenzas rather than separate flights of fancy. One of the features of the piece is the alternation between forward momentum (whether slow or fast) and more static sections, in which the soloists explore some ideas against a sustained orchestral background.

The Concerto is played without a break, and the tempo markings above outline the main sections. The opening Largo alternates between orchestral build-ups of texture and solo cadenza sections, a technique adopted in the other slow movements, and the Allegro sections have to some extent a slightly "fantastic" air about them. The work as a whole emerges as a large slow movement with quicker interludes, the largest of which is the final Allegro deciso, in which the music pursues a rondo-like progress until once more halted by a cadenza, and the work closes with a slow final section in which the soloists' recalling of a perky phrase from the earlier Vivo is finally overwhelmed by the orchestra's pulsating chords. These diminish, and the work ends quietly - indeed, silently, since the soloists are asked to hold their playing position for a moment after the piece has finished. The Concerto lasts about 20 minutes. The score is prefaced by a line from W. E. Henley: "Night with her train of stars".

John McCabe