• Martin Dalby
  • Viola Concerto (1974)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)

Commissioned by the BBC for a Prom

  • 3(2pic)1(ca)3(2bcl)1(cbn)31(cnt)222perchpstr
  • viola
  • 17 min

Programme Note

Martin Dalby: Viola Concerto

Although this year sees the sixtieth birthday of the distinguished violist Frederick Riddle, Martin Dalby has stressed that his new viola concerto, but recently completed, is not primarily intended as a birthday present. Rather he wishes it to be seen as a public gesture of affection and admiration for Frederick Riddle, who himself at one time gave Martin Dalby viola lessons. So although the work was especially commissioned by the BBC for the 1974 Prom season, the fundamental inspiration that brought this single-movement concerto into being was essentially something intensely personal.

Of all instruments in the string family the viola is surely the most sombre. It is blessed with a voice that never quite escapes a touch of melancholy. Indeed, in the most persistent styles of music, however energetic they may be, there is inevitably a feeling of threnody - and at the other end of its vocal spectrum it is capable of producing such gentle sounds of nostalgic grief that they can be almost unbearable to hear. In fact it is because of these sonic limitations, inherent in the viola's very nature, that it becomes an instrument so suitable to convey a message that is inevitably personal and private.

Martin Dalby does not wish me to give any technical breakdown of his score. Suffice it to say that this most gentle and delicate instrument is here pitted against a vast orchestra with a particularly opulent percussion section. The form the work takes is virtually one of, to quote Eliot, 'birth, copulation and death'. The viola can be heard confident and aggressive, vivace ed energico, as it springs upon its newly-found world. Such is the mastery of the scoring that for a while this slender instrument can be heard positively to be enjoying the battle. Naturally, with musical development, as it were with maturity, comes the fructification of the argument - a centre point is reached where all is blossom, but from which inevitably disintegration sets in. Little by little things begin to come apart. 'Tears, idle tears, tears as from the depths of some divine despair', wrote Tennyson in one of his more inspired moments. Alas, he claimed he knew not what they meant. Dalby is more realistic and does not let us down so lightly. In the final bars the muted voice of the viola is lost within a backcloth of perpetual nothing.
© Michael Howard