A Deep but Dazzling Darkness

James MacMillan (1959)

A Deep but Dazzling Darkness 2001-2002

1(=picc).afl.1.1.dbcl.0-1.2.1.1-perc(2):I=vib/5cowbells/5tpl.bl/2bongos/BD/4gliss.gongs; II=tuned gongs/tamb/SD/pedal BD/hi-hat/tam-t/watergong-harp-2pft*(II=cel)-8.6.4.4.2 - tape(CD)
Duration 
22
Solist 
Genre 
Commissioner 
Publisher 

A Deep but Dazzling Darkness is a concerto for violin and ensemble (or chamber orchestra) and tape. It was commissioned by the London Symphony Orchestra for the opening of its new St Luke's centre and by the Saratoga Chamber Music Festival, New York. It is cast in a single 25-minute movement and experiments with contrasts in light and shade, celebration and foreboding. I was fascinated to learn that the medieval patron saint of music, before the relatively recent adoption of St Cecilia, was Job. His suffering and trials may make him a somewhat unlikely candidate to modern minds, but it was Job's role of comforter to fellow sufferers that linked him with music in earlier times. Like Michael Tippett, I have long believed in the mysterious connections between compassion and music, and this has provided the central impetus for this work.

Aspects of the chamber groupings within the ensemble, such as in a series of trio interludes, are drawn from medieval woodcuts and paintings depicting Job comforted by musicians, and there are links to musical references in the book of Job: "my heart is turned to mourning and my flute to the sound of wailing". An ominous martial refrain through the work is the L'Homme Armé theme, while vocal verses heard on tape summon the "Sad Saint of all musicians to bring compassion and light in dark and troubled times".

The title is from the Henry Vaughan poem, The Night, which indicates the ambiguity, mystery, and otherness of the nature of the Divine:

"There is in God, some say,
A deep but dazzling darkness; as men here
Say it is late and dusky, because they
See not all clear.
O for that night! where I in him
Might live invisible and dim."

James MacMillan

(This programme note can be reproduced free of charge in concert programmes with a credit to the composer)

Performances 
27.3.03 LSO St Luke's, London: St.Lukes, London: Gordan Nikolitch/London Symphony Orchestra/James MacMillan
2
Flute
1st doubling piccolo, 2nd alto flute
1
Oboe
2
Clarinet
2nd double bass clarinet
1
Horn
2
Trumpet
1
Trombone
1
Tuba
2
Percussion
player 1: vibraphone 5 cowbells, 5 temple blocks, 2 bongos, bass drum, 4 gliss gongs player 2: tuned gongs, tambourine, side drum, pedal bass drum, hi-hat, tam-tam, watergong
8
Violin
6
Violin II
4
Viola
4
Cello
2
Double bass
1
Harp
2
Piano
Piano 2 is tuned a quarter-tone above the norm, 2nd player doubles celeste
1
Electronics
tape (CD)
(Esc)