• Anthony Payne
  • Orchestral Variations - "The Seeds Long Hidden" (1994)

  • Chester Music Ltd (World)

Commissioned by the English Chamber Orchestra

  • 2222/2200/timp/str
  • 20 min

Programme Note

I was spending my school holidays at my grandparents’ home in Godalming. It was a rainy afternoon, and I was trapped indoors waiting for tea. The radio was tuned to the Home Service (Radio 4 is the nearest equivalent now), and a voice was droning on. Suddenly, music burst out and I was transfixed - my life irrevocably changed in that instant. I was around 12 years old and not a musical child. My family listened occasionally to the popular favourites of the day and a few light classics, but I knew no composers’ names, and, consciously at least, was aware of very little music. That is until that fateful moment.

How could it have happened? It was as if I had been drawn through a window, and was suddenly floating (I felt this palpably) in a magical landscape. Needless to say, I did not rush to my parents and tell them I had just had a mystical experience. I couldn’t think what had happened to me, and it took time to understand the part music had played in the experience. Nevertheless from that moment on I was a musician, and within a couple of years obsessively so. It was some time before I again heard the music which had so disturbed me, but I waited in anxious hope. Eventually it returned, and I discovered it was the opening of Brahms’s First Symphony.

These variations chart that experience, as well as other formative encounters with composers who have helped to shape my view of things. None are quoted directly (I am suspicious of this age’s obsession with quotations). Most are only briefly and cryptically alluded to, while pieces of my own which on reflection seem to show a connection with those composers are similarly woven into the musical discourse. Over and above this network of references there unfold ten variations based on the opening original theme, all of which produces the following scheme:

THEME: a three-part unit - A (quiet held brass notes holding together flowing sequences of chords), B (rising theme and descending bass in luminous whole-tone colours), and a return to A.

VAR 1: the throbbing pedal notes of the opening of Brahms’s First punctuate A’s harmonies, and lead, after elaborations of B, to a dramatic quotation from the Brahms (slightly re-harmonised to harness it structurally).

VAR 2: a fleet-footed commentary on the previous variation follows without a break. There are distant allusions to my chamber piece A Day in the Life of a Mayfly, and, by means of a single cadential chord, to Bridge’s The Sea.

VAR 3: a moderately paced, dance-like transformation of B’s material clears mysteriously to reveal Vaughan Williams and Butterworth in harness, then returns and fades.

VAR 4: B’s wholetones and major thirds briefly bring to mind my Phoenix Mass (in effect my opus one, though preceded by juvenilia), then proceed broadly in conjunction with A’s harmonies in both quick and slow guise.

VAR 5: a forceful, developmental movement, creating a centre of gravity. Beating drums and bell-like brass statements alternate with a deep chordal ostinato (an obscure reference to Varèse) which soon supports an arching cantabile. The process is varied and repeated, leading finally to a few re-composed bars from my String Quartet.

VAR 6: marks the work’s still centre- an extended adagio based on B.

VAR 7: a fluttering allegretto alludes without actual quotation to Dorabella’s hesitancy after the stately progress of Nimrod in Elgar’s Enigma Variations.

VAR 8: a robust scherzo injecting rhythmic energy into A’s flowing chords. The violent contrasts of the Enigma Variations provide a sub-text, and there are more tangible references to Roberto Gerhard’s Concerto for orchestra and my own Time’s Arrow.

VAR 9: A’s chords spread out into a quiet chorale-like section, alternating twice with more lively material which refers initially, if barely recognisably, to Delius’s North Country Sketches, and later, more clearly, to Sibelius’s Tapiola.

VAR 10: the finale. A would-be moto perpetuo, drawn from A, which brings back earlier features (notably Variation 5’s cantabile), touches distantly upon Tippett’s Second Symphony, and is eventually de- energised by slow harmony. I have attempted a musical autobiography which ends as inexplicably as it began when I met Brahms around 1947.


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