• Judith Weir
  • Music, Untangled (1992)

  • Chester Music Ltd (World)

Commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in honour of the 50th anniversary of the Tanglewood Music Center

  • 2.1+ca.2.2/4330/timp/hp.cel/str
  • 7 min

Programme Note

Music, Untangled is a six-minute overture, commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in honour of the fiftieth anniversary of the Tanglewood Music Centre in 1991; it received its first performance there on 3 August that year.

The music was inspired by a short extract from a traditional melody sung by women cloth-workers in Barra, in the Western Isles of Scotland. The Scottish folk music tradition is one that Weir has frequently drawn on in the past, both in shorter works such as the songs of Scotch Minstrelsy and in her second opera The Vanishing Bridegroom, and it is one she has completely assimilated into her technique. The modal feel of this piece, however, is as much a result of Weir's intuitive and idiomatic harmonic sense as of the original inspiration.

The music falls into several very short sections. The opening is essentially one line played by horns, trumpets and strings, which overlap to create a clouded heterophonic texture. The orchestra is then divided into several blocks, which are juxtaposed and overlap. The trumpets lead with their madrigalian rhythms. Next comes some gentle but sonorous chords on the strings which alternate with faster, more nervous figures in the winds.

About halfway through the piece comes a passage, rather unusual in Weir's music, in which she gradually, but persistently builds up a texture of several layers, beginning with the low strings, the three trumpets, next the high strings and flutes, then the horns and so on. After a brief rest, Weir divides the orchestra into two basic groups which alternate with their own characteristic material: flutes, clarinets, celeste, harp and cello take turns with the upper strings and a trumpet.

In the original version the busy, light energy of this section was suddenly terminated by an abrupt, sharp chord. Weir's music is never prolix, but after the first performance she decided to extend this brief piece by another minute or so. The melodic line is heard more or less continuously, but interrupts by seven more short chords, and figures heard earlier in the brass. The energy subsides and the piece ends quietly, finally focusing down in the closing bars to a single strand of melody.

© Judith Weir


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