Chiaroscuro

Colin Matthews (1946)

Chiaroscuro 1990

1.afl.2.1.bcl.2 - 2100 - perc(1) - cel - harp - strings (ideally 10.8.6.6.4)
Duration 
16
Commissioner 
Publisher 

Chiaroscuro, the play of light and shade in painting or drawing, isn’t a term that can be applied with a precise meaning to a piece of music. And although, as I said in the Proms prospectus, Monet’s late paintings of waterlilies were a source for this work – more specifically the magnificent twenty-foot long example in the New York Museum of Modern Art, in front of which I spent most of a morning several years ago – I would not presume to attempt to translate a great painting into music. Nor are the processes in late Monet and the technical term ‘chiaroscuro’ by any means the same thing. So perhaps all that can be said is that these sources became abstract concepts which prompted the music, and which – as often happens – retreated into the background as the music progressed and found its own logic. What consequently became the foreground was a balance between harmony, melodic line and orchestral colour and texture – each of them at different times becoming the most important element during the course of the piece. Not exactly radical concepts! – and the piece represents for me something of a temporary relaxation from the more linear and perhaps aggressive music I’ve been writing over the past few years (a relaxation which, incidentally, was much harder to achieve than I expected, and so something of a contradiction).

With all that subjective baggage out of the way, the structure can be described as tripartite, though in a single movement, and lasting some sixteen minutes. The first part sets out the harmonic colouristic framework out of which emerges a very long melodic line, in which solo trumpet is the most prominent voice over a restrained but kaleidoscopic background. The second part is scherzo-like, with muted, whirling textures, and the melody fragmented. The third part, which lasts almost as long as the other two put together, alternates slow, dense chordal textures with more dramatic episodes: the two become enmeshed before the end, where the music dissolves in a wash of colour. Chiaroscuro is gratefully dedicated to Richard Hickox and the City of London Sinfonia, who commissioned the work with funds made available by the Arts Council of Great Britain.

Performances 
8.8.90, BBC Proms, London: City of London Sinfonia/Richard Hickox
22.2.92 Queen Elizabeth Hall, London: City of London Sinfonia/Richard Hickox
1.12.00 Konzerthaus, Berlin: Berlin Chamber Orchestra / Jac van Steen
5 & 8.11.03 Winterthur, Switzerland: Orchester Musikkollegium Winterthur / Jac van Steen
2
Flute
2nd alto flute
2
Oboe
2
Clarinet
2nd bass clarinet
2
Bassoon
2
Horn
1
Trumpet
1
Percussion
vibraphone, glockenspiel, tubular bells, 2 tam-tam
10
Violin
8
Violin II
6
Viola
6
Cello
4
Double bass
1
Harp
1
Piano
celesta
(Esc)