Circles for chamber orchestra

Circles for chamber orchestra

A while ago I posted my programme notes for Circles. A work for chamber orchestra (two oboes, bassoon, two horns, strings),

The basic structure of the piece is based upon one I have used in several pieces over the last few years. Fundamentally, these consist of an A and B section, which alternate, and grow and develop as the piece expands. Towards the end of the piece, there is a (or a couple of) climatic points, which grow either from one of these sections, or a combination of the two. A work which follows this quite closely is Paradoxical Exchanges; another which uses it in a different way is my work for gamelan and string quartet. I think my use of this technique appeared during my Masters, when being criticised for using too much material in any one composition. Concentrating on just two main thematic concepts meant I could improve my ways of manipulating material without making pieces too ‘busy’ in terms of new ideas.

The two themes have different origins. The oboe theme just appeared in my mind at some point, and seemed perfect for creating contrast in this work. The theme which begins on the double bass and cello (before being taken over by the entire ensemble) developed from a pattern from change ringing. My husband has been a ringer for about 10 years, and has taken to practicing the changes on a computer simulator. I found myself drawn to a particular row of reverse rounds in doubles (5-4-3-2-1-6 – in this form, the tenor bell, the 6, is always covering – at the end of the row). Whatever it was he was practicing, this kept coming back, and I grew slightly obsessed with it – which is the beginning of that theme, and helped shape the rest of it. The development and growth of this theme (vertically, with the addition of new instruments) is loosely based on gamelan stratification principles, but using different techniques at times to achieve similar effects.

The switch into half time, where you can feel a gear shift, is taken directly from Javanese gamelan music, and is a technique I feel is particularly effective – allowing the listener to appreciate some of the other layers of the work, whilst still keeping the thematic links intact. Towards the end of the work, there are two other sections: one with stabbing chords over the oboe theme (passed between the instruments), with the chords originating from material from the introduction and A and B sections. This is followed by a section of diminishing time, where the time signature slowly reduces from 6 beats in a bar down to 2, before returning to a texture similar to that of the opening, with similar, yet changed material.

The sections from the fragment:

1 – The first occurrence of B – the oboe theme (fragmented), heading into the second appearance of A.

2- The final full occurrence of B in its full form, heading into the version of A with the gear shift.

3-  The stabbing chords, heading into the diminishing time section, before a brief snippet of the coda.

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