Sudden Time

George Benjamin (1960)

Sudden Time 1993

4333 - 4441 - timp - perc(5) - pno - 2 harp - strings (14.12.10.8.6)
Duration 
15
Genre 
Publisher 

The gestation period for this orchestral piece was lengthy - the first sketches date back to 1983 and the last bars were completed shortly before the première a decade later. As this period progressed my ideas for the type of piece I wanted to write gradually crystallised - this process involved the invention of a new technical approach as well as the rejection of certain concepts very much tied to my earlier works. Above all I wanted the music to flow with considerable agility, the material evolving across the orchestra, sometimes in several different directions simultaneously.

To achieve this the texture throughout is conceived in linear terms, the audible harmony being created by the fusion of separate lines. The resulting structure oscillates between focused, pulsed simplicity and whirlpools of complex polyrhythm. An organic sense of continuity between these extremes is made possible by the fact that all material, however plain or elaborate, is based on a few musical cells of great simplicity. Sudden Time basically divides into two continuous movements, the first (lasting about five minutes) acting as a turbulent introduction to the second, where a subliminal metre is perpetually distorted and then re-assembled. Even through an exceptionally large orchestra is employed, my intention at times was to achieve a transparency akin to chamber music. Material was directly conceived into full score and there is no decorative padding or conventional doubling. Some unusual instruments are employed, including a quartet of alto flutes, a pair of miniature recorders, a muted piano and a plethora of mini-tablas which accompany the extremely difficult viola solo at the work=s end.

The title is a quotation from a Wallace Stevens poem, AMartial Cadenza@ - AIt was like sudden time in a world without time.@ Some of the concepts behind this piece can be illustrated by a dream I once had in which the sound of a thunderclap seemed to stretch to at least a minute=s duration before suddenly circulating, as if in a spiral, through my head. I then woke, and realised that I was in fact experiencing merely the first second of a real thunderclap. I had perceived it in dreamtime, in between and in real time. Although this is but analogy, a sense of elasticity, of things stretching, warping and coming back together, is something that I have tried to capture in this piece.

George Benjamin

Performances 
21.7.93, Meltdown, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London: London Philharmonic Orchestra/George Benjamin
3.10.93 Lyon, France: Lyons Opera Orchestra / Kent Nagano
7.8.94 BBC Proms, London: BBC Symphony Orchestra / George Benjamin
3.9.94 Sydney, Australia: Sydney Symphony Orchestra / George Benjamin
4.10.94 Paris, France: London Philharmonic Orchestra / George Benjamin
5.10.94 San Francisco, USA: San Francisco Symphony Orchestra / Hugh Wolff
9.2.95 Free Trade Hall, Manchester: Hallé / George Benjamin
15.7.95 Perth, Australia: Western Australia Symphony Orchestra / Paul Daniel
17.9.95 SettembreMusica Festival, Milan: Toscanini Orchestra / George Benjamin
20.11.97 Cleveland, OH, USA: Cleveland Orchestra / George Benjamin
18.12.98 Munich, Germany: Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra / Markus Stenz
18.8.98 Symphony Hall, Birmingham: City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra / Sakari Oramo plus European tour
26.2.00 Cologne, Germany: Ensemble Modern / George Benjamin
31.1.01 Frankfurt, Germany: Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra / Ilan Volkov
20.2.03 Concergebouw, Amsterdam: Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra / George Benjamin
5.6.03 Barbican Hall, London: London Symphony Orchestra / David Zinman
Selected performances only. For full listing please visit www.fabermusic.com
4
Flute
all doubling piccolo and alto flute
3
Oboe
1st & 2nd doubling gartlein recorder, 3rd cor anglais
3
Clarinet
3rd bass clarinet
3
Bassoon
3rd contrabassoon
4
Horn
4
Trumpet
4
Trombone
1
Tuba
1
Timpani
5
Percussion
4 sets sleigh bells, 9 temple blocks, 2 whip, 2 vibraphone, 2 suspended cymbals, 5 tambourine, 10 mini-tabla, 2 glockenspiel, 4 guiro, 5 bongos, 16 crotales, 3 tom-tom, 2 bass drum, 2 rototoms
14
Violin
12
Violin II
10
Viola
8
Cello
6
Double bass
2
Harp
1
Piano
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