Strip

Morgan Hayes (1973)

Strip 2005

2.2.2.2.cbsn - 4.2.3.1 - 3 perc - harp, piano, cimbalom, harmonium, str(s) 14.12.10.8.6. minimum
Duration 
12
Genre 
Commissioner 
Publisher 

Like his teacher Michael Finnissy, Morgan Hayes has long been fascinated by the idea of transcription. In one of his earliest published pieces, Weaving, Hayes takes as his starting point two famous ground basses by Purcell – from Dido's Lament and the Chacony in G minor. This simple premise supports musical elaboration of great fantasy, and while the Purcell originals are clearly present, they are enfolded by Hayes's music so convincingly that they no longer function as quotation or allusion but are fully possessed.

If this layering of musical material has been a constant means in Hayes's work, the ends to which it has been put are remarkably varied, underpinning the densely textured Viscid (1995) as much as the Squarepusher arrangement Port Rhombus (2004). What has changed over the last ten years is the increasing transparency with which Hayes presents his musical ideas. The style of his early ensemble pieces is of great textural intricacy, teeming with irrational rhythms and quarter-tone inflected harmony and melody. Now, the music contains much more explicit repetition while the harmonic language happily embraces the (almost) diatonic and the (totally) chromatic.

Strip is Hayes's first work for orchestra and the title refers not only to his layering of material but also his desire to strip down the music and its presentation to the simplest means. Thus, the opening presents a repeating rhythmic idea on various untuned percussion instruments, punctuated by a single chord founded on perfect and augmented fourths and major and minor seconds. Heard initially on harp and piano and arpeggiated by the cellos and basses, the chord is subsequently transposed and inverted and yields melodic figures for wind and brass. When the cellos and basses take over (and elaborate) the untuned percussion tattoo, two solo violins enter, playing the kind of athletic cantabile lines so characteristic of Hayes's chamber music. Steadily increasing in intensity, the music reaches a brief hiatus before unleashing the full orchestra, appassionato, for the first sustained coalescence of melody and harmony.

With this stratified exposition of rhythm, pitch and timbre, from the bass upwards (broadly speaking), Strip can be heard as another disguised passacaglia, the idea that first entranced Hayes as a student and which, as always with this composer, supports a narrative of great poetry and invention.

© Christopher Austin 2005

Performances 
25.8.05 BBC Proms, London: BBC Symphony Orchestra/Joseph Swensen
2
Flute
both doubling piccolo
2
Oboe
2
Clarinet
in A, both doubling Eb clarinet
3
Bassoon
III=cbsn
4
Horn
in F
2
Trumpet
in C
3
Trombone
1
Tuba
4
Percussion
1
Harp
3
Piano
piano, cimbalon and harmonium
(Esc)