• Robert Saxton
  • Psalm - A Song of Ascents (1992)

  • Chester Music Ltd (World)

Commissioned by London Sinfonietta for its 25th anniversary

First performed at the Barbican Hall, London on 23rd January 1993 by John Wallace with the London Sinfonietta conducted by Lothar Zagrosek

  • 1111/1110/perc/str(
  • trumpet
  • 15 min

Programme Note

The shape and sound of Psalm - A Song of Ascents were in my mind long before the title, and when I began work on the score in September 1992 it became clear that the piece was not so much a concerto as a poem for solo trumpet and small orchestra. When John Wallace requested some years ago that I write him a work I thought continually about the striking images and various roles of the trumpet in the Bible and in much great painting; there are ceremonial, celebratory, and more bellicose uses, all the way from the synagogue ram’s horn - or shofar- to the trumpets of angels. The title which I decided on eventually refers to some of the later psalms which, in the King James version, are called Songs of Degrees and in the Revised Versions, Songs of Ascents. I interpreted this as a spiritual (rather than as a literal) ascent, and as I wished to exploit both the singing and the more agile, dancing aspects of the trumpet, the idea of a textless psalm seemed appropriate.

The music unfolds in three sections which outline a circle of ascending fifths, from E to A. The first part is slow and begins with solo trumpet and bells, gradually increasing in speed and flowing into the central section, an allegro moderato which itself accelerates; both soloist and orchestra share material as the more lyrical music is transformed into the dance of the third section, which begins after a passage for the trumpet alone. This also traces an overall accelerando which, after reaching a loud climactic point, resolves onto a sustained coda which closes the piece in tranquil mood.

Robert Saxton