Commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra with funds from the Arts Council of Great Britain

  • 2222/4231/timp.2perc/hp/str
  • 15 min

Programme Note

One of my favourite works of Schönberg is his Five Orchestral Pieces, and as a student I remember reading somewhere that each of them originally had a title, the fourth of them being Peripeteia. The Oxford English Dictionary informed me that the word meant ‘a turn right about, a sudden change especially that on which the plot of a tragedy hinges’. It seemed to me that one day it would be exciting and challenging to explore this idea in a more extended way, though obviously the content, the musical motifs, would be very different. What interested me was to create a work starting in one mood, then to introduce some kind of ‘event’ which would suddenly upset and change the course of the musical flow.

The opening bars are sunny and bright, and shortly a violin melody emerges, often accompanied by the horns. A softer, lyrical section follows with an important solo for a pair of clarinets, later joined by solo cello. A reprise of the opening material leads to another lyrical section, this time for solo oboe. The next reprise is interrupted by the ‘event’, at first soft and ominous, then building to an overwhelming climax. After this, though most of the themes from the first part reappear, fragmented, dream-like memorise. It’s as if all that is left of reality is a memory.

Peripeteia is thus a kind of opera without words or specific plot. The first sketches were made in the winter of 1980-81 and completed the following summer. The work was commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (with funds provided by the Arts Council of Great Britain) especially for a concert celebrating the bicentenary of the birth of Vincent Novello. It was first performed at the Royal estival Hall on the 2nd November 1981 by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the compser conducting.

Peripeteia is dedicated to Sir Denis Forman.

Thea Musgrave