• Robert Saxton
  • The Sentinel of the Rainbow (1984)

  • Chester Music Ltd (World)

Commissioned by The Fires of London

  • fl(pic,afl)cl(Ebcl,bcl)/perc/pf(cel)/vn(va).vc
  • 15 min

Programme Note

The Sentinel of the Rainbow was composed in 1984 to a commission from the Fires of London with funds from The Arts Council of Great Britain. It was first performed by the Fire of London in the Bloomsbury Theatre as part of the Contemporary Network Tour.

The title is both descriptive and structural – the descriptive aspect of the piece refers to Heimdal, one of the gods of Teutonic mythology. He was not only the god of light, but also personified the rainbow and presided over the beginnings of things – over the ‘prima’ rather than the ‘summa’. He was the guardian of the gods and was always found near the bridge of the Bifröst – ‘the rainbow’ – which led from the dwelling place of men to that of the gods, and he was their divine sentinel. He could see at night as easily as in the day and owned a trumpet which could be heard all round the earth. In the music much emphasis is placed on high bright sounds which contrast with deeper ones, characterising in sound Heimdall’s dual qualities of brightness and power. At a structural level the piece sets out with high clear sound stating a rhythmic scheme which, in augmentation and diminution, plays an important role throughout. As the music gathers momentum, the instruments trace gradually ascending paths. The bass clarinet moves upwards to the E flat clarinet just as the flute’s melodic line is transformed into the music of a high dancing character on the piccolo. The two string instruments also trace an ascending path as a duo, the piano following suit until the whole ensemble reaches a high bright section which, after a speedy descent, rises once more only to fall in torrents into a sustained section which returns finally to the opening. The general shape of each instrument’s melodic line and indeed the contour of the piece as a whole have thus traced a series of non-symmetrical arches, and at the close the whole process is heard beginning again, mirroring Heimdall’s role as the symbol of all that is to be born anew.

© Robert Saxton
August 1984