Commissioned by the BBC for the 1965 Promenade Concerts
This work for oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn and strings was commissioned by the BBC for the 1965 Proms when it was played by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra with soloists from the orchestra, conducted by James Loughran. This was 35 years after my first Prom performance at the Queen’s Hall.
In those intervening years I had written a great deal of music - especially chamber music, including seven of my string quartets. The emphasis had been mainly on writing for strings and so writing concertante work with four wind soloists was exciting and stimulating.
The Introduction opens with a brief and widespread chord for divided strings, expanding ever outwards and against this background the wind soloists introduce themselves in turn- oboe, clarinet, horn and lastly, bassoon. There is no formal statement of a theme but their free melodic phrases contain the germs - or rather the ingredients - of a theme, particularly the two adjacent augmented 4ths - Eb to A and D to G# - and the little stepwise figure AB-B in the bassoon. Eight variations follow:
No. I - Based on the augmented fourth interval and stepwise one with a dotted note theme running through it.
No. II - A fleeting Presto often alternating 6/8 and ¾ time. The vigorous conclusion leads to third variation.
No. III - With its strong repeated chords for strings and an ostinato-like bass line above which the wind soloists and upper strings weave long melodic lines.
No. IV - A lively fugue- which makes use of the traditional devices of augmentation, inversion, stretto and so on, in its brief course.
No. V - Reflective with freely expressive wind phrases to a background of quick string chords.
No. VI - A brief Scherzo with the theme turn upside down in the second half.
No. VII - A sort of serious conversation piece between the wind soloists in which the string soloists soon join. The strings carry on the discussion while the wind play plain like a chant in unison then all join in the argument with increasing conviction.
No. VIII - This last variation is a vigorous 5/8 finale. As it ends the widespread string chords of the introduction recur and the opening phrases for the wind soloists are expanded into a quiet conclusion.
Programme note by Elizabeth Maconchy