My Horn Quintet is in one continuous movement and begins by presenting the principal materials in quick succession. First we hear fierce contrapuntal activity built around 'hunting' and 'battle' horn exclamations. This is followed by a fast unison melody, a sad emphatic keening theme and a light, dancing scherzo on muted solo horn.
These elements are then developed in a free fantasia form but there are three important points to look out for. The sad keening fragment is repeated many times on the horn, while the string accompaniment shifts around the main materials; the faster music is presented as a duet on the 'bass' instruments of the ensemble, horn and cello; and the scherzo is transformed into a simple folklike 'song' for three strings, before the music heads off in an unsettled development, taking improvisatory twists and turns.
As the work heads to its conclusion the viola features with a cantabile development of the keening theme, before various other threads are gathered up and wind down. The horn player leaves the ensemble while still playing and finishes the work offstage.
James MacMillan 2007
This programme note may be reproduced free of charge in concert programmes with a credit to the composer