• Tristan Keuris
  • Symphonic Transformations (1987)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)

Commissioned by the Houston Symphony Orchestra (with funds provided by the Cultural exhange btwn The Netherlands and the USA)

  • 2+2pic(afl).2+ca.2+Ebcl+bcl.2+cbn/4331/timp.5perc/hp.cel/str(
  • 15 min

Programme Note

With the appearance of Tristan Keuris's SINFONIA it was immediately clear to
the discerning listener that European music had found in this young Dutchman - he was 26 when he wrote it - an exciting new talent, a composer with something strong and original to say, and who was capable of saying it in a fresh yet accessible manner. He went on to consolidate his position with a succession of works for large ensemble, for orchestra and various chamber groups and solo instruments. His next international success was MOVEMENTS for orchestra, played throughout the world, including nine performances in the United States alone and commercially recorded, in which he should a still greater mastery of form and expertise of orchestral handling, without losing any of the spontaneity which was such a feature of the earlier scores. It was one of a number of works - including the 2nd STRING QUARTET, the PIANO TRIO and the (CONCERTO FOR SAXOPHONE QUARRTET AND ORCHESTRA (which American audiences will be able to hear at the
1988 Cabrillo Festival) - to confirm beyond doubt Keuris's standing as one of the most important composers at work today.
SYMPHONIC TRANSFORMATIIONS is his mosst recent major piece, and is an excellent introduction to Keuris and his musical criteria, displaying those qualities which he considers important. "We should take it for granted,” he says, "that a composer must be a complete master of his chosen craft. He (or she) must have total command of orchestral technique, of form and of structure, but that is only the beginning". It is perhaps this unselfconsciously virtuosic use of large orchestral forces that immediately strikes the listener to this work, the feeling that nothing is beyond his powers to handle with ease.
The plan of the work is a first-movement sonata form, a single movement combining the exposition of several thematic cells, an econanic but powerful development section involving rigorous motivic working interspersed with contrasting but thematically related episodes, a recapitulation with the opening material metamorphosed but recognisably related, and an extended coda/finale drawing together the threads of all the earlier material and ending with a tremendous tutti outburst of enomous power.

As the title suggests the score involves elements of both sonata and metamorphosis, which he combines with great skill and economy, but the really interesting feature of the work is the method he has devised which allows him to move smoothly from one tempo to another - of generating rapid movement over a slow basic pulse, obviating the necessity of separate independent scherzo and slow movement sections. Thus he produces a full symphonic structure, with its tensions, tonal centres and tempo balance perfectly and satisfyingly distributed, in something under a quarter of an hour. The tightness of its construction give it a power and impact out of all proportion to its modest duration.