Commissioned by Nash Ensemble

  • 12 min

Programme Note

In recent years the tyranny of deadlines and a certain personal inclination has led me to abandon much of the pre-compositional work which used to set me off on the trail of a new piece. Time has been so short that it has been necessary to get down as quickly as possible to putting the actual music on paper without the use of pre-formulated systems to govern pitch, rhythm and structure. This means that the element of improvisation has come to the fore in the creative process and, along with it, a certain degree of danger and unpredictability. I have often started pieces without knowing what they were really about or where they were going, which would have been unthinkable a few years ago. All of this is a little unsettling, but challenging and, I feel, productive.

When Amelia Freedman commissioned the present work, for instance, for the delightful combination of Ravel's 'Introduction and Allegro', I thought of writing something of a serenade-like character, and, indeed, planned to call it 'Serenade' for some weeks. It slowly dawned on me, however, that I was not writing the piece I thought I was. It was more like some little process of nature whereby things grow and change without our quite realising it, or else appear not to change when in fact they do - thus the title I eventually chose.

Two main elements, the opening pizzicato figures and the sensuous harmonies that follow can be observed growing or splintering as the work progresses. Another important idea is of a long accompanying texture which first supports capricious flute and clarinet figures and returns later in an exact transposition to underpin a totally new melody for the winds in thirds - the same yet different!

A Sea-Change for flute, clarinet, harp and string quartet was commissioned by the Nash Ensemble with funds provided by the Arts Council of Great Britain. The first performance took place on 12 June 1998 at the Unitarian Chapel, Islington during the Almeida Festival and was given by the Nash Ensemble conducted by Lionel Friend. The duration is 13'.

Anthony Payne, May 1998