Concertante (1987, rev. 2003) 13'

Programme Note

I wrote this work in autumn 1984 and spring 1985 shortly after my arrival in Britain to begin compositional study with Oliver Knussen. It encapsulates my first conscious attempt to come to grips with modern compositional technique, and reflects the new sound-world I encountered in London in the mid-80’s. Among the works I studied in 1984 was Stravinsky’s Aldous Huxley Variations. I decided to write a work exploring a similar technique, based on variation. However, the basic material was not a theme, but a hexachord, used much in the manner of Stravinsky, with hexachordal offshoots generated by transposition-rotation and inversion. My basic series was D - E flat – F - A flat – G - B flat. The series of variations were all held together by an overall asymmetrical arch-shape. I was very taken by the proportional schemes of Debussy and Bartok and had studied their use of the golden mean. Before I wrote Concertante I created an elaborate formal-structure that divided the work into large Golden Section proportions, with each sub-section treated to further such divisions. The entire formal scheme was generated thus.

Broadly speaking one can say the work has three principal divisions. An exposition opens the work where permutations and variations of the prime hexachord create a fast-moving narrative deploying the entire ensemble. This is followed by instrumental solos and duos carved out of the ensemble, and features idiosyncratic developmental material that is occasionally cross-cut in the manner of a collage. The last section is more reposeful and has the character of a summation and release. As I shaped the work, I observed that I was drawn naturally to thinking in layers and to superimposing layers in counterpoint. I was to use this technique more elaborately in future works. In other ways too it looks to the future, for the sound-world is broadly atonal despite the tonal inflection of the basic hexachord. At the time it was scary and interesting at once. Today I can see that it has one important thread that connects it to Indian classical music, which is the music with which I grew up: an absolute respect for authenticity and coherence in pitch relationships. This part of the composer’s craft has always been important to me, and I like to search for pitches in an organic way, rather than taking refuge in mechanical systems. Oddly enough I managed to do this rather intuitively despite employing a ‘rational’ series-permutation procedure.

Programme Note © Param Vir, 2003