...through the glass

Colin Matthews (1946)

...through the glass 1994

afl.ca(=ob).cl.bcl(=Ebcl ad lib).bsn(=cbsn) - 2 hn.tpt- perc(1): BD/4 tom-t/vibraslap/susp.cym/hi-hat/tam-t/vib/mar - pno - harp - 2 vln.vla.vlc.db

It seems a long time since all that a composer had to do was to write the music. Pre-concert talks and programme notes are almost prerequisites of a performance, and if this has become a necessity, perhaps composers themselves are largely to blame for what is seen to be the obscurity of their (musical) language. If the music were to speak clearly enough, explanations wouldn’t be needed. That, of course, presupposes that new music was always readily absorbed and understood in the past. It wasn’t; but it certainly seems to have spoken to its audience more directly that it does now, and composers need to take that on board. Their particular problem is that, because of the now universal availability or music, through recordings and broadcasting, they have to contend with music of the past in a way that composers never had to before. Explanation of how they relate to that past has become a near-essential. (It might even be that, if Beethoven had given pre-concert talks, a critic would not have complained in 1824 that ‘most of what he produced is so impenetrably obscure in design and so full of unaccountable and often repulsive harmonies, that he puzzles the critic as much as he perplexes the performer.’)

All this is preamble to an admission that in writing this programme note – on the day, two months before the first performance, that …through the glass has been finished – I’m at a loss to know how to do more than let the music speak for itself. One of the joys, for me, of writing music is that it’s possible to avoid being specific, to indulge in ambiguity; and so to pin it down with words seems inappropriate. I can explain that the title of this piece derives from the last three words of a poem by Edmund Blunden; but to quote the whole of that poem (a dark and sinister one) would be thoroughly misleading. Besides the title only came, as titles tend to, half way through imagery of a thing seen through, unreachable, or overlaid with elucidate it, and a brief description of the music may be more helpful, even if it goes no further in ‘explaining’ it. …through the glass was composed between March and September 1994, and lasts around sixteen minutes in a single span of music, mostly slow. The opening is fiercely monodic (a single-line melody), music which recurs in the form only once, after a series of refrain-like episodes, the last of which is a hushed ‘chorale’ for muted strings (more like a distant song that a chorale). A central fast section fleetingly alludes to all the earlier material, before a recapitulation of the refrains leads to an apotheosis of the ‘chorale’ in an extended coda.

…through the glass is dedicated to Sally Cavender. I am very grateful to the BCMG for this second commission, made possible through their Sound Investment Scheme, and particularly to Simon Clugston for his enthusiasm and encouragement.

Colin Matthews

20.11.94 Adrian Boult Hall, Birmingham: BCMG / Simon Rattle
26.11.94 Symphony Hall, Birmingham: BCMG / Simon Rattle
13.3.98 Adrian Boult Hall, Birmingham: BCMG / Stefan Asbury
18.8.98 BBC Proms, London: BCMG / Simon Rattle
17.8.98 Salzburg Festival: Festival Players / Simon Rattle
18.2.00 Juilliard School of Music, New York: Juilliard School / George Manahan
25.6.01 RNCM, Manchester: RNCM New Ensemble
6.10.05 Sage Gateshead: Northern Sinfonia / Thomas Zehetmair
26.5.06 Goteborg, Sweden: Northern Sinfonia / Thomas Zehetmair
30.5.06 Darlington: Northern Sinfonia / Thomas Zehetmair
31.5.06 Alnwick Playhouse: Northern Sinfonia / Thomas Zehetmair
21.10.06 CBSO Centre, Birmingham: BCMG / Oliver Knussen
22.1.09 Sage Gateshead: Northern Sinfonia / Thomas Zehetmair
24.1.09 Kendal, Cumbria: Northern Sinfonia / Thomas Zehetmair
12.2.09 Hong Kong Arts Festival: Northern Sinfonia
alto flute
cor anglais doubling oboe
2nd bass clarinet doubling Eb clarinet ad lib
doubling contrabassoon
bass drum, 4 tom-toms, vibraslap, suspended cymbal, hi-hat, tam-tam, vibraphone, marimba
Violin II
Double bass