• David Blake
  • Seasonal Variants (1985)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)

Commissioned by the Norfolk and Norwich Triennial Festival

Study score is available to buy

  • fl(pic).2cl(Acl,bcl)/pf/vn.va.vc
  • 18 min

Programme Note


The first sketches for this piece were made in October 1984. On 1st November that year, I moved house from York to the completely rural surroundings of Upper Wensleydale. With a view of the sky and a long stretch of the dale uninterrupted by buildings, a constant awareness of the variations in natural phenomena became the norm, in particular changes in the qualities of the light, in the sky and on the hills and fields and the sometimes violent transformations wrought by rain and wind on the streams and trees. Although over the years, I had had many countryside holidays, this was the first time I had observed a beautiful place in all its seasonal moods.

There would be little point in searching for specific pictorial images in the piece. For instance, if I were to suggest that the brittle, clattery sound of the first movement might be likened to the frozen waterfall and gigantic icicles formed in the rocks near my house, it could lead to disappointment. A musical idea born of such a stimulus can only develop in an entirely musical way, essentially unrelated to the visual image. That is why musical tone-painting has to be an integrated part of the musical language and structure if it is not to be banal.

There is, then, no clear plan to my 'seasons' - merely a whimsical interplay between monochrome and polychrome, intense and relaxed, warm and cool, explored through an idiom at times dissonantly chromatic and fierce, at others warmly diatonic and sensuous.

A cello recitative in the Toccata gives rise to a tender new idea which is recapitulated twice later on. The languor of the Intermezzo is interrupted by music of extreme contrast - first as a duet between violin and viola, then as a tutti culminating in a duet for the two clarinets. The wind-down leads directly into the soft diatonicism of the Notturno. I had in mind here the various 'night musics' of Bartok, where music of extreme calm is set against a phantasmagoric fleetness. I have eschewed bird and insect noises. The flute and piano are given solos at structural moments in the movements.

A friend assures me that my rural surroundings and the constant sound of running water from a gill, which after heavy rain is transformed from a benign babble to a roaring threat will effect a fundamental change in my music. It is too early to tell. Tippett has said that the music of the future will be urban. I'm not sure I agree with that, but anyway, The Icebreak was composed in rural Wiltshire. Seasonal Variants is certainly a nature piece, but the opera I am working on is not. The whole question defies analysis.

© David Blake