• John McCabe
  • Rainforest II (1987)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)

Commissioned for the 1987 Harrogate International Festival with funds from the Yorkshire Arts Association

  • str(
  • trumpet
  • 20 min

Programme Note

As the title suggests, this is the second piece of mind to have been inspired by the atmosphere and landscape of rainforests. As with the previous work, for ten instruments, commissioned by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, New York, the rainforest in question is Australian, and sub-tropical rather than tropical. There is absolutely nothing programmatic or directly pictorial in the music, but it would not surprise me in the least if listeners were able to relate some of the music to specific sounds or sights to be experienced in a rainforest - the subconscious assimilates and then interprets such influences in a much more widespread and pervasive way for a composer than many people are prepared to acknowledge, or even grant respectability!

The piece is continuous, and the tempo is mainly slow - even in the quick section which forms the third of the four parts, some of the strings continue playing material from the previous slow music while the double bass sets the new, quicker tempo, and this overlap of pace continues for some time until all the players have assumed the faster speed. The work starts and closes with a trumpet solo, and when the strings enter it is to build downwards figuration of the work's basic chord (a cluster built up of superimposed thirds). The relative freedom of this section gives way to a more strictly notated slow part heralded by a contemplative, somewhat ornamental trumpet tune which is, as it were, the work's basic theme. After the climax of the faster section, the slower tempo returns, with alternating solo trumpet phrases and full string statements, leading to the trumpet's final solo fading into nothingness.

A word about the trumpet part. It may seem perverse, when writing for a genuine virtuoso soloist, to give the trumpet neither very much fast music (though there is some) not to take the part up to the higher reaches of the instrument - the trumpet, after all, is capable of some extremely exciting high playing. This was not a deliberate avoidance of the obvious (there's nothing wrong with being obvious if it is placed right) - it is simply that the music demanded from me the kind of writing that it has. As it happens, the trumpet line, though it seldom goes really high, is actually laid in the top half of the register for extended periods without going right to the top. In a way, this might possibly be a reaction to the present fashion of exploring the extremes of instruments without too much regard for either beauty of sound or the listeners' ears (the subconscious at work again). The harmonic denseness of the music in this piece seemed, however, to demand a trumpet part which works closely in with the string sound.
© John McCabe


McCabe: Rainforest II for trumpet and strings