Commissioned by the Saltire Society

  • 1+pic.1+ca.1.1/3200/2perc/
  • tenor
  • 11 min
  • Chaucer
  • English

Programme Note

The first sketches for the Triptych were made in the summer of 1958 in response to a commission from the Saltire Music Group and the work was completed just over a year later.

Though the work as a whole obviously had to follow the form of the Chaucer poem, the organization of the musical details provided a stimulating problem: it was necessary to find a musical design which would not obscure the strong effect made by the repeated lines of each of the three poems. To avoid spoiling the effect of this repetition I decided not to repeat lines or phrases except when called for by the text. However the mood and also the musical form is different in each of the songs.

The first song has clearly contrasting sections and makes use of musical repetition. It is easy to detect a return to the first idea each time it returns, even though it is somewhat varied.

The second song contains identical repetitions of the opening musical idea - a phrase for orchestra introducing a theme for the voice with slow, heavy repeated notes. At the end these repeated notes are taken up chordally by the orchestra and with a gradual crescendo and accelerando form a big climax.

The last song has no musical repetition in this sense. A short, fast, scherzo-like movement, it has an almost unbroken background of semiquavers (16th notes), divided between harp, celeste, vibraphone, pizzicato violas and bongos, which accompany a light rhythmical vocal line. Another feature of this movement is the number of sudden pauses. There are no ritardandi, not even at the end; here, instead, there is a gradual diminuendo as the semiquavers fade away into the distance.

Triptych was first performed at a BBC Promenade Concert at the Royal Albert Hall in 1960.