Commissioned by the Feeney Trust

  • 3(2pic)233(cbn)/4331/4perc/hp/str
  • 22 min

Programme Note

Columbia Falls is like a broad landscape: you are aware both of the overall contour, the balance of forces that shape it, and of the multitude of details. The listener is invited to move between foreground and background, to take his bearings from the juxtaposition of contrasting ideas, of ideas recurring, meeting, parting, changing. The perspective is always shifting, the music always growing about one. The orchestra 'families' have their own kind of music to continue the metaphor of landscape each occupies its own area. The brass are outgoing, brilliant, virtuosic, the woodwind are also soloistic, but in a much gentler, more intimate style; they play like chamber soloists. The strings create a harmonic continuum filling all the musical space; sometimes their music is clearly in the foreground: more often they are ambiguous in their perspective.

Columbia Falls lasts about twenty minutes. It is a continuous arch, created in three sections and a coda. The first section ends with an extended string fall; percussion (little bells and wind chimes) make the transition into the second section - brass melodies flowering into a wild ensemble. Here we have moved close up to the landscape. Woodwind (very inward) begin the last section in which, at the climax, there is a distant view of the different areas seen now in clear relation to one another, their details simplified to become bands of colour - the harmonic blocks - which achieve an individual balance and a balance in relation to one another. The work ends with a solo alto flute which creates a final ambiguity as to perspective and mass. Is this solo a detail - a shred of a single song heard across the widest stretches of the distant landscape? Or does it refer us back to the clarinet solo at the beginning of the work so that the whole width and breadth of the landscape appear as the expansion of a single song?

Columbia Falls is called after a remote village in Maine, USA, where I went to begin composing the piece in the summer of 1974.

© Nicola LeFanu


LeFanu: Columbia Falls