The Stations of the Sun

Julian Anderson (1967)

The Stations of the Sun 1998

3333 - 4331 - timp - perc(4) - pno(=cel) - harp - strings (

The title The Stations of the Sun refers not to any religious rite, but to the changing positions of the sun through each day, and through the seasons. Three years ago I read Ronald Hutton's fascinating book of the same name, explaining the origins of folk customs through the year - giving an egg at Easter, ceremonies for the winter solstice, and so forth; it immediately suggested ideas for a new orchestral piece. Instead of a literal programmatic approach, however, I decided to let the music take its own shape whilst keeping the idea of a seasonal cycle in mind as a background.

The superficial form of the piece is quite simple - four linked sections plus a coda. As the music progresses, there is an increasing amount of interruption and cross-referencing, so that the true form of the piece is much more elusive and ambiguous. The following outline is not a blow-by-blow account, but a rough guide for those who wish it. The woodwind launch the work abruptly into a scherzo, presenting the simple melodic patterns to which much subsequent music can be more or less directly traced in an exuberant polyphonic dance. A cascading series of these melodies side-steps into a slow movement, mainly for the strings: at first a set of variations, with the theme presented by the violins alone, it soon develops into a continuous song with varied harmonic and polyphonic colours. A very fast dance for the flutes, clarinets and Japanese temple bells intervenes and the quickening pace releases a new scherzo. This is another variation on the slow movement theme, now revealed as the plainsong Alleluia 'Adorabo' - first on the strings, then on brass and wind, all accompanied by drums. The central plateau of the work follows: a long, ecstatic melody played mainly by the trumpets, extending and varying the plainsong, is surrounded and eventually overwhelmed by carillons on the rest of the orchestra. Here the music abandons equal temperament to include a small number of chords with microtones - chosen for their resonance and varied colour. The dance with drums is twice resumed, but now cross-cut with other musical characters, including an increasingly violent brass chorale used as a varied refrain. The tension is finally released in a polyphonic texture for the whole orchestra that precipitates the work's main climax: an evocation of Easter with an explosion of bells, both real and imaginary. As to the coda: a single six-octave mode gently resounds around the whole orchestra as many melodic and harmonic elements of the piece combine and unite for the first time in the work's only tutti - the harmonic goal towards which the entire work has been heading. A sudden 'zoom' at the very end denies the music any safe conclusion, suggesting instead the beginning of something new which is nut off before we can fully glimpse it.

Julian Anderson

21.7.98, BBC Proms, London: BBC Symphony Orchestra/Andrew Davis
16.4.99 Helsinki, Finland: Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra / Oliver Knussen
21.10.99 Cleveland, OH, USA: Cleveland Orchestra / Oliver Knussen
21.1.00 Boston, MA, USA: Boston Symphony Orchestra / Ilan Volkov
30.7.00 Tanglewood Festival of Contemporary Music, USA: Boston Symphony Orchestra / Ilan Volkov
16.9.00 Concertgebouw, Amsterdam: Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra / Oliver Knussen
7.10.00 ISCM World Music Days, Luxembourg: BBC Symphony Orchestra / Pascal Rophé
2.11.00 Royal College of Music, London: RCM Symphony Orchestra / Martyn Brabbins
19.12.00 Symphony Hall, Birmingham: City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra /Sakari Oramo plus performances in Madrid and at the Klangspuren Festival in Austria
15.11.02 Royal Festival Hall, London: London Philharmonic Orchestra / Daniel Harding
23.4.07 BBC Maida Vale, London: BBC Symphony Orchestra / Oliver Knussen
13.3.28 City Halls, Glasgow: BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra / Martyn Brabbins
15.12.10 Royal Festival Hall, London: London Philharmonic Orchestra / Jukka-Pekka Saraste
7.12.13 Royal Festival Hall, London: London Philharmonic Orchestra / Vladimir Jurowski
23.10.14 Philadelphia, USA: Philadelphia Orchestra / Vladimir Jurowski
2nd & 3rd doubling piccolo
3rd doubling cor anglais
3rd doubling bass clarinet
3rd doubling contrabassoon
doubling whip and Mass or sanctus bells
tubular bells, side drum, 3 bongos, 2 tumba, cymbals, mokubyo, 2 woodblock, cabaca, 2 vibraslap, 4 tin, marimba, tuned gongs, 2 tam-tam, 2 tom-tom, tambourine, anvil, tavolette, vibraphone, glockenspiel, bass drum, 2 maracas, dinner bell, 2 suspended cymbal, congas, sizzle cymbal, turkish cymbal, 2 triangle, sleighbells, flexatone, metal chimes, mass(sanctus) bells)
Violin II
Double bass
doubling celesta