Commissioned by the Pittsburgh Symphony for their 100th Anniversary season. First performed by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra conducted by Edo de Waart at Heinz Hall, Pittsburgh, on 29 March 1996.
I. Summa Ferri
III. A Spirit in Mourning
V. Le Grand Concert
The idea for the first movement, Summa Ferri (the gist, or heart of iron), suggested itself after friend had sent me a copiously illustrated book about Pittsburgh, The Story of an American City by Stefan Lorant. It contained reproductions of some Piranesi-like engravings of steel mill interiors depicting a hive of industry. These were in sharp contrast to exterior views showing a very peaceful rural setting. The fortissimo chord of the opening, together with their lyrical antitheses, are destined to form the main building blocks of the work.
The Mononbird is an exotic , large creature of the night, both majestic and a little lugubrious. Its hypnotic demeanour and, at times, ecstatic pursuit of its prey are reminiscent of a gigantic owl, but the Moonbird is less agile in flight due to a limited wingspan in relation to its oversized boy.
In the third movement, thoughts of war lead to tragic and somewhat ghostly manifestations of an unquiet spirit. Somewhere neat the middle of this pivotal movement the musical material coalesces into a full-blown lament.
A few years earlier, the Pittsburgh Symphony had invited me to write a short musical tribute to Lorin Maazel on his sixtieth birthday. The resultant little piece for wind quintet forms the basis of the fourth movement, an orchestral Aubade.
Le Grant Concert provides a busy final wherein some of the main ideas from the previous four movements are re-worked and framed in altered contexts, keeping the whole orchestra well-occupied throughout.
Programme note © 1996 Gerard Schurmann